Title: Of Boyfriends & Hometowns

Disclaimer: all standard disclaimers apply. The characters do not belong to me and no money has been made. Please don't sue.

Notes: pre-Graboid Rights. As always: This has been spelling-and-grammar checked, but is unbeta'd. Any mistakes are mine, though hopefully there aren't any/many!

~~~This was written years and years ago (back in '07) but I just found the flash drive with it… so I'm posting it. Enjoy!

******All challenges can be found at the bottom of the story file. To anyone who's interested in taking and writing for them: feel free! I'd enjoy reading what's written. You don't have to take them all at once like I did… I just happened to have them on file and decided to gradually combine them into one story. In other words: I started with 3 (including the opening line one), finished them except for 2 words within the first 1500 words, so added another… And since I already had some of the words in the others… You get the point!

Summary: Just a day in Mindy's life in the series. It includes none of the regulars, but it does give a little back-story to Chad and Mindy's relationship (as seen in Graboid Rights)… Response to the opening line challenge of: "I had the dream again last night," as well as a few others.

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"I had the dream again last night." Mindy Sterngood said it quietly… and then nothing else as she plopped down on the worn plaid sofa that she had rescued from a thrift store for ten dollars. She drew her legs up and wrapped one arm around them loosely, leaning forward slightly to rest her chin against her knees. "I hate having that dream," she muttered, shivering slightly.

It was early, the night outside dark and still quiet, a mere hour before the sun would begin to rise and warm the air and the birds would start singing their morning songs. She leaned into the arm that wrapped itself around her shoulders, enjoying the strength of the body beside hers.

"What dream?"

"I guess it's not so much a dream as a nightmare… and a memory," she admitted to the person sharing the sofa. If it was her normal roommate, she knew that she wouldn't have to explain anything; the memory-induced night terrors were few and far in between, but they still happened often enough that Sabrina knew vague parts of the story behind them… and not to ask for details. This, however, wasn't her roommate. It was Chad Ranson, her political science professor. She shivered for a moment, more from the slivers of shame and, dare she say it, disgust, that she was sleeping with one of her professors.

Chad mistook it for another surge of remembrance of her nightmare, tightening his arm around her more as he put down the book that he had been reading from in the low lamp light.

"Just something that happened in my life," she answered, not wanting to get into it any more than she absolutely had to. Part of her knew that he probably would not be satisfied with that answer, but she had to try. "We all have memories like that, don't we? Skeletons in the closet that we don't want to see the light of day… Childhood fears that don't have a basis in reality as it stands now."

Chad chuckled at the old and wise words coming from the blonde college student's lips. "I guess we do… but it never hurts to share them."

They were the words of a perfect boyfriend, a model that almost every woman held the man she was dating up to… Words that very few college guys, never mind high school guys, said. And, if he had said them in the harsh light of day, Mindy knew that she probably wouldn't have believed him. But right now? Right now it was still dark out, her eyes were gritty and her eyelids heavy, and the shadows from the dream that had woken her were still trailing their ghostly fingers through her not-quite-awake mind. The words sounded perfect to Mindy: supportive, caring, and even loving.

In silent answer, Mindy got up and went to what passed for a bookcase on a student's limited budget, really just a stack of boards with brightly painted cinderblocks separating them into shelves. From the depths, she pulled a thick album out, faded imitation leather cracking and worn in some places. Moving back to the sofa, she once again settled within the protective half-circle of Chad's arm, reaching behind her to draw it around her more firmly. She opened the album to a cheerfully decorated page; merely the first of evidence of hours that were spent scrap booking, as most teenage girls did.

"I usually keep this in my room," she murmured as she began flipping through the pages quickly, "but I was looking at it earlier. Tomorrow's the anniversary."

He slowed her down by a simple touch to one of her hands before beginning to flip through them slowly himself. He rarely took his eyes off the pages, watching the snapshot images of a young girl growing up with blonde pigtails and a gap-toothed smile. The backgrounds changed frequently: lush campgrounds, an old-style log cabin, an old VW bus brightly painted by someone who clearly relished in the old hippie lifestyle. In some pictures she was alone, in others she was with a variety of adults and a plethora of children.

She stopped the movement of his hand when they came to a particular picture. It had been taken in what appeared to be an Old West style general store, rows of items off to one side and faded wood boards providing the backdrop for the child sitting in a chair. There was a long brownish tube dangling close to her, one end gaping open as the other disappeared off camera. "A childhood momento," she explained wryly.

"What is that?" Chad traced the tube with a long finger. Even in the flat photograph, it look was shiny, looking as if it had been drenched in Vaseline or some other type of lubricant.

"A tentacle from a Graboid," she answered matter-of-factly. "They have three or four tentacles in their mouth, which then come out and grab you, pulling you closer to be eaten. Once they grab you… there's not much hope of you getting out of it alive." She paused, her eyes distant as she obviously looked into the past. "That picture was taken at Chang's Grocery, by Walter Chang, before he died in the first Graboid attack in my hometown of Perfection."

"That's the town in Nevada; the one where they showed up again recently, isn't it?"

"Yeah. What a way to go down in history. 'Come see Perfection, the historic site of two separate Graboid attacks!'" she mocked the announcer's voice from The Rich & The Beautiful. "One's still there. They call him El Blanco. The Great White. He's the only one to live as long as he has." Mindy shook her head slightly. "My mother still lives there."

"Perfection's supposed to be out in the middle of nowhere," Chad mused. "What would make her move there in the first place?"

Mindy shrugged, turning the page over to find another picture, this one taken by the grad student that had been a major part of the fight for their lives. Mindy was sitting in the bed of a pick up truck, legs caught in mid-kick as they dangled. Beside her was a blonde woman, arms wrapped tightly about the child as she looked down at the girl, lips caught open in mid-word. A desert garden was visible in the background, obviously well tended with loving care. "The solitude. She wanted to get away from it all, I guess."

Chad said nothing for a long minute, looking at the image before him. That it was a touching mother-daughter moment hadn't penetrated his mind. What really caught his attention is that the woman was familiar. He had seen her before, in other photographs as well as in person, hazy memories rose to remind him.

"My mother is… I guess you can call her a modern day hippie. She's a vegetarian and prefers natural healing, has been an activist, a groupie…" Mindy turned the pages again, finding pictures of both her and her mother at communes as well as backstage at concerts. "I was young when we moved there, but I remember what a struggle it was for her to fit in at the other places we lived.

"Perfection's a town of hippies?"

Mindy snickered as she thought of the current occupants of her hometown. "Not even close! I took some sociology classes last year. According to the definitions, Perfection is a classic frontier town. The people who live there are extremely…" she hesitated, wondering how she could say what she wanted without it coming out as in insult, which it truly wasn't before finally deciding on: "eclectic."

Chad looked at her, questions in his green eyes. "I've never heard of a community described as eclectic before," he pointed out, laughing.

Mindy shrugged with one shoulder. "I don't know how else to say it. Burt's been there the longest. Some reporters described him as an 'antisocial paramilitary paranoid.' He can be hard to take. He collects guns, can make bombs out of common household items, hates outsiders, and is suspicious of almost everyone. He just had his home wired for solar energy as a backup in case his electricity goes out." Mindy laughed. "My mother loved that. Asked him to wire her own house. He's over prepared, over-the-top and takes pride in that… but that's not all there is to him. There's a softer side. Not many people get to see it."

"Sounds like you have."

Mindy nodded. "You know about my mother… But there's Jodi. She runs the General Store now. She should be running some big business in LA or New York. She can take almost any situation and find a way to make money, come out ahead. She could survive out here no problem… but chooses to live there."

Chad laughed. "I'll keep her in mind next time we need help with the organization."

"Rosalita's the newcomer. She's nice, but not quite one of us," she mused. Chad waited a moment, wondering if Mindy had noticed her us of 'us' instead of 'them.' She didn't, continuing: "She used to live in Vegas. Showgirl or something like that. Got into trouble of some type, moved out to her uncle's ranch. She doesn't quite fit in, but my mom says she makes life there interesting."

Chad blinked when Mindy didn't continue after a few minutes. "That's the whole town? Four people?"

"Well, there's Harlow, who works on Rosalita's ranch, and Jack… but Jack doesn't really count. He wasn't there long and already left." She mumbled almost inaudibly under her breath about older women: Jack choosing Jodi over her blatant flirting was still stinging her ego somewhat. "And Harlow actually lives in Bixby and commutes every day."

"It must've been something, growing up in such a small town," Chad ventured.

Mindy said nothing, getting up from the sofa and wandering over to the window, staring out at the darkness that was just beginning to lighten. Wrapping her arms around her body, she finally answered. "I don't know about that," she admitted. "Sometimes, when I was young… I'd feel…" she hesitated again, not wanting to continue as it felt like she was betraying her mother. "I had a wonderful childhood," she asserted, "Graboids aside. Sometimes I just felt like a burden. Not when I was young, but when I got older, saw my mother worrying over how to send me to college."

"All parents go through that, Mindy," he argued. "It's not special because of where you lived."

"Not all parents had the guilt that my mom had." She moved over to one of the walls and looked at the reflection just barely visible in the dawn light. Instead of seeing the shadows that were mostly there, she saw shadows that veiled her mother's blue eyes at times when the older woman couldn't hide them.

"Guilt? I didn't have the most common childhood either, but I'm pretty sure neither of my parents felt guilty over that. Proud, maybe, but never guilty."

Mindy shrugged with one shoulder, acknowledging the comment but not truly agreeing with it. "Your parents didn't move you to a town out in the middle of nowhere where you were almost killed."

Chad nodded slightly, the action unseen by Mindy. "I hadn't looked at it from that angle; I guess I can understand it."

"Yeah." The answer was quiet, more for herself than for him. "Living in Perfection did pave the way for me getting to college, though. Mom and I caught an Ass-Blaster and sold it to Siegfried and Ray." She turned suddenly, a flurry of movement out of place in the dawn stillness. "I have to get out of here." She made her way back into the bedroom where she began stripped her clothes off and changing into athletic gear. As she pulled an aqua T-shirt over her head, she felt a slap against her bottom.

"Such a cute tushie," Chad teased from behind her.

Casting a coquettish look behind her, she bent over fractions of an inch. "Please, sir, I want some more," she pouted, her lower lip dew-wet and glossy in the slight light.

"Later," he promised, laughing. "You have practice tonight, right?" He continued without waiting for a response: "We'll play a few games of our own afterwards."

Mindy laughed as well, a blush rising up her pale skin to tinge it pink. "Sabrina's going to be home tonight," she reminded him.

"Hey, babe, we're not hurting anyone with our relationship, so she can't really complain. No harm, no foul." He leaned in and spoke in a whisper. "And, confidentially? I think she's just jealous."

Mindy snorted quietly in disbelief. "Is that jealous of me for being with you… or you for being with me?"

Chad shrugged. "Either way works." He flopped backwards onto the bed. "I'll call for pizza tonight, okay? Enough for all three of us"

"Trying to bribe Sabrina?"

"If you think it'll work," he half-admitted. "A buddy of mine may be coming into town… Ray (INSERT NAME HERE). Maybe I should bring him by; he can help keep her occupied."

"Yeah… That'll be a blast," she answered sarcastically.

He nodded. "Yeah… good point."

She walked by him, stealing a quick kiss on her way. "I'm going out for a jog. Lock the door on your way out, okay? I'll take my keys."

He yawned, grabbing one of the pillows and holding onto it. "Yeah, sure."

Mindy had already gone to the front door before turning and making her way back to her bedroom, stopping in the doorway. "By the way… tushie?" she asked incredulously. Her answer was quiet snores, her question addressed to a man fast asleep. Shaking her head, she turned and left the house.

It was late when she came back home for the night, having made a pit stop later in the morning for a quick shower, a change, and to grab the books she'd need for classes that day. She let herself into the back door off the kitchen, not wanting to bother with weaving through the cars that other students had left out on the lawns of that house and the ones next to it. The state of the kitchen was testament to the fact that Chad had made himself breakfast: dirty dishes were piled in the sink and crumbs littered the counters. Ignoring the mess for now, she dumped her bag on one of the tall barstools that she and Sabrina had rescued from a dumpster by Sabrina's work. "Anyone home?"

"In here," a woman's accented voice called.

Mindy grabbed an apple from the bowl sitting on the counter and bit down on it as she walked through to the living room. "How's everything going, Sabrina?"

Sabrina shrugged. "C'est la vie," she answered.

Used to her roommate's non-answer answers, Mindy shifted an enormous colored pencil drawing from where it was propped on the sofa. A Native American was standing in the foreground, eyes solemn and sad as he stared out of the paper. He was wearing the regalia of an old chief, feathers appearing slightly worn and beads resplendent against a leather-covered chest. The background was sectioned into a collage of four pictures, each exquisitely detailed. There was a roadside stall with trays of what appeared to be jewelry, a trailer visible behind it with a makeshift clothesline. A young boy playing barefoot next to a pile of garbage. A gap-toothed woman perusing the bruised-fruit section of a grocery store, her shopping cart nearly empty and her clothes threadbare. The last was a scantily clad woman holding a tray as she leaned into a person lost in the shadows.

"I call it Broken Pride," Sabrina said without looking up from the picture she was currently working on.

"It's…" Mindy hesitated, not sure quite what to say. "Powerful," she finally settled on. You can almost feel the sadness he has."

"The sadness we all have," Sabrina mentioned absentmindedly. "Just about different things."

Mindy set the drawing to the side and reached over to touch what was piled on half of the coffee table. A pile of comics sat there in disarray, some of the covers torn slightly. On top of them, a silver lighter gleamed in the lamplight. "Problems with Jason?"

"Jason is juvenile, annoying, and has no idea about what a person does here at college. He's…" she shrugged, "Jason is nothing." She looked up at the blonde. "We broke up."

Mindy nodded. "Ritual burning of the boyfriend remembrances?"

Sabrina snorted. "More like boyfriend belongings."

"Hey, possession is nine-tenths of the law."

Sabrina laughed and gracefully rose from her place on the floor. She stretched, raising her arms high above her head before bending at the waist and placing them flat against the floor. As she was, the front door opened without a knock to announce anyone. She twisted and saw Chad letting himself in, dislike twisting her features slightly. "Somebody call Security."

"Ha, ha, ha," Chad mocked, tossing his briefcase on a chair. "Pizza here yet?"

"Nope," Mindy answered.

"Which means you still have the bad luck of paying the pizza guy for the pizza that you ordered," Sabrina told him, her voice almost devoid of inflection.

Chad shrugged, not saying anything in response to that. "I wish I could be that flexible," he said instead, eyeing Sabrina's position.

Mindy slapped him on the leg. "Yoga'll help you, Chad."

Focusing his attention on his girlfriend, he shook his head as he sat down next to her. "MY dad tried to get me to do yoga when I was younger… Never did take."

Mindy shook her head in response, finishing her apple in short order. Without even looking, she tossed it across the room, where it landed in a small brightly-decorated garbage can. As Sabrina began to gather up her art supplies, she began to help.

Chad, for his part, picked up a paper that Sabrina had left there. It was a charcoal drawing of a flower arrangement. "Black roses?"

"It's a black-and-white picture, Chad," Sabrina pointed out to him.

His answer was forestalled by a knock on the door and a male voice calling out 'pizza!' He got up to answer the door, grabbing his wallet on the way. "Keep the change," he told the delivery boy, closing the door and making his way back to the table with the pizzas. He set them down in the middle and accepted the plate that Mindy gave to him with a soft smile. "Thanks, babe."

She sat down on the sofa next to him, curling her legs under her body as she leaned into him and accepted a plate back from Sabrina, this one filled with a slice of pizza. She bit into it, eyes closing briefly as she relished it. Her mother had raised her as a healthy person… but pizza was one vice that she adored. Her obvious enjoyment of the food caused both her roommate and her boyfriend to chuckle.

"Girl, I ain't never seen anyone enjoy something as simple as pizza as much as you do," Sabrina mumbled slightly around a mouthful of her own.

Mindy shrugged and lifted a napkin to her face self-consciously, wanting to get rid of any stray grease. "You've talked to my mother, Sabrina."

The artist laughed and nodded almost completely finished with her first slice and about to make serious inroads on her second.

"Miss lunch again?" Mindy asked with a laugh. Her only answer was a nod and a sheepish shrug. Mindy shook her head, knowing that Sabrina missed almost half of the meals she should eat, her mind wrapped up in her studies and her art instead of the much more mundane things she should focus on. "You need to eat more." She stopped and shook her head, unable to believe that she had actually said that. "Why is it that I'm five years younger than you are… and I feel like I'm your mother?"

Sabrina shrugged her shoulders, her mouth full.

Mindy turned to Chad with a smile "How was your day?"

Chad shrugged slightly. "Same old, same old."

"Classes to teach, papers to grade…" Sabrina raised an eyebrow as she finished: "students to sleep with?"

He didn't deign to answer her; it was a subject she could rant about for ages, so he merely rolled his eyes as Mindy kicked her with a socked foot. After that, he pointedly ignored her, focusing his attention instead on his girlfriend. "Did I ever mention my friend Ray to you?"

Mindy bit her bottom lip slightly as she searched her memory for the name. "Isn't he the one in the Wildlife Warriors?"

"Close enough," he laughed. "I got an email from him today. He met someone, a scientist named Ellie Bergen."

"Hey, isn't she the one who's been studying Graboids?"

"One and the same; it's why I thought you might be interested in knowing that she and Ray are planning on coming into town in the next few months."

"Chad, I have enough Graboid problems in my life," Mindy reminded him.

"I thought you weren't going to tell him," Sabrina interjected, much to Mindy's chagrin. She cast a quick glare at the girl before turning an apologetic one to Chad.

"Why weren't you…?" He cut himself off with a shake of his head, holding up a hand to forestall anything that Mindy was about to say. "You know what? We can talk about that later, when we don't have the peanut gallery in the wings," he glanced at Sabrina as he said this. Her oh-so-mature reaction was to make a face at him. He shook his head and continued to concentrate on Mindy. "Are you interested in meeting Ellie?"

"Well, I never thought about being involved with anything having to do with Graboids again," she admitted honestly. "Except when I go home, of course. But I guess it couldn't hurt to meet her…"

"I wonder what she'd think about your hometown," he ventured. "Humans and Graboids living in such close proximity."

"We're definitely one of a kind," Mindy agreed.

"They're one of a kind. You don't live there anymore," he reminded her.

Mindy didn't agree, feeling that she would always consider her hometown as her hometown… but she didn't feel like arguing the point with Chad. Her boyfriend had spent his childhood transferring from town to town as his father moved them at whim, fighting the good fight as he saw fit. Because of the way he had grown up, Chad didn't feel any particular affiliation to any one town or city. Feeling bad for him but not wanting to argue the point, she merely nodded slightly.

"Do you ever wonder how the Graboid is doing?"

"I usually wonder how the people are doing, Chad, she answered dryly. "I know it's against your sensibilities… but I care more about the people I consider my family… than El Blanco."

"El Blanco?"

"That's what they – well, Hector Gonzales – named the Graboid. The White, since he's albino."

"An albino Graboid?"

"An albino, sterile Graboid that acted different even when the others were in Perfection Valley, too. He's already lived twice as long past the time most Graboids morph into the Shriekers."

He grabbed her around the waist, pulling her closer as he pressed a kiss against her neck. "I love it when you get so scientific," he teased her. Mindy relaxed into the embrace for a moment before pushing him away, casting a guilty look towards her roommate.

The rest of the evening continued in much the same vein, Chad continued in asking questions about Perfection, the people that Mindy grew up with, the current residents, and anything else he could think of from the top of his head. Mindy evaded a few of the questions but acquiesced to answering most of them, not seeing any harm in them and, in fact, feeling quite flattered that Chad was taking an interest in the place that had helped shape her into who she was. He never had before.

The one thing that began to get to her was his persistence in wondering just how her mother, Burt, and the others affected El Blanco. As Chad kept pointing out, he had lived longer than any other of his species. Did the people living there in such close proximity affect it in some way they weren't aware of? She'd often thought of how the Graboid affected the people, but not the other way around. His conversation was peppered with Ray's exploits in Wildlife Warriors, his own similar experiences while growing up with his father, and Ellie Bergen's research.

She had to admit... it made her question things that she never had before.

Chad went home that night, much to his annoyance. He kept trying to catch her around the waist and remind her of the game they'd promised each other they'd play later. She told him another time, wanting to spend time with her roommate as the other woman had been busy quite often lately. Not so busy they wouldn't see each other… but she was also avoided Chad, whom she could barely stand once he and Mindy had started dating. After he had left with ill-grace, Mindy and Sabrina began to clean up the plates and pizza boxes, an easy job as both of them were naturally tidy.

They settled back down on the sofa, laughing at jokes they told each other. Before long, the conversation turned serious, Sabrina bringing up the one subject that was guaranteed to start an argument between the two of them: Chad.

"I don't trust him, Mindy."

She rolled her eyes, hugging a pillow to her chest in a pose reminiscent of her mother. "I don't know why you say that. It's not like he's done anything to you."

"Mindy, why can't you see that he's taking advantage of you?"

Mindy laughed. "If anyone's taking advantage of anyone… I am of him! Think about it Sabrina: I could get him into a ton of trouble… especially if I don't pass his class."

Sabrina reached out and ran her hand through the blonde hair in a move reminiscent of mothers every where. "You can be so naïve sometimes, Mindy."

She slapped the hand away, scowling. "I'm not naïve!"

"Mindy… I just don't want you to get hurt. He's your professor. He's playing mind games of some type with you. Maybe I haven't figured out which way yet… but he is."

"Why can't you just believe that he likes me, Sabrina? That that's all there is to it?"

"Maybe because I've seen these student-professor relationships and they never end well? Maybe because Chad's the kind of guy that'd make a great used-car salesman? Maybe it's because I know you and, as much as you deny it, you're essentially a small-town girl?"

"Chad would not…" she paused, thinking about it. "Okay, he would make a good used-car salesman. But that doesn't mean he's taking advantage of me or anyone else for that matter."

"And what do you make of all those questions he asked tonight?"

She shrugged, slightly uncomfortable since he hadn't shown such interest in her past before and she didn't really know why he did that night. "Maybe he's just interested in me."

Sabrina let out an inelegant snort. "Yeah, he's interested in you all right… Mindy, you've been sleeping together for weeks – and he's never asked you anything before. You would've mentioned it to me if he had."

"We're dating!"

"When's the last time you went out together to a public place? I don't mean a study-date picnic in the park. I mean a real date, to a romantic restaurant, dancing, maybe a movie? Or the last time he was your date to one of those keg parties?"

"We can't do that… people wouldn't understand!"

"Of course they wouldn't understand. He's your professor. It's against the rules! And I don't believe that his taking an interest is what prompted his questions. Not in you… He's probably interested in Perfection Valley."

"Why on earth would he be interested in Perfection Valley?"

"He wants to be a politician, right? They always need their soapboxes."

There was silence for a long moment before Mindy shook her head. "I… I can't believe you said that."

"Mindy, I…"

Mindy cut her off with a motion as she stood up abruptly, dropping the pillow back onto the sofa with more force than necessary. "I really can't, Sabrina. I thought you were my friend. You may be… But you know what? I'm an adult. It's my life and I know what I'm doing. If I want to spend it with Chad, standing on the sidelines of history… then I will. Notice the keywords there? I want. Not what you want or my mother wants, or what you think is best for me. It's what I think is best for me!"

She turned and stalked to the hallway, turning back when she reached it. "Was that plain enough for you, Sabrina?" She turned and left without waiting for an answer, her bedroom door slamming a few moments later.

"Yeah, it was plain enough for me," Sabrina spoke quietly to the empty room. "I just hope you realize what he's up to before you get in too deep."

The End

CHALLENGES:

----Opening line: "I had the dream again last night."

----Improv Challenge # 4: "please, sir, I want some more," black roses, mind games, bribe,"no harm, no foul," pizza guy, security

----Improv Challenge # 9: games, touch, drenched, blast, tush

----Improv Challenge # 14: solar, garden, anniversary, aqua, comics

----Improv Challenge # 17: eclectic, hope, alive, mother, burden

----Improv Challenge # 18: memory, pride, solitude, historic

----Improv Challenge # 19: struggle, reflection, momento, guilt, broken pride

Again: anyone who is interested in writing for any of the challenges… please feel free to do it!

As added incentive: you don't have to write in this fandom (though it obviously needs writers!) – you can write in any.