Chapter 13: First and Last

T: “Etta! Dante’s here!”

E: “So? He’s not here to see me.”

T: “I know, I just thought… nevermind.”

Etta rolled her eyes and continued reading. Since she met Dante in the library, everyone was making  a fuss about him. Sure, he was fun and well-built and probably the most gorgeous boy she’d ever met, but that was exactly the point – guys like that were into other types of girls.

‘Yeah, I can keep dreaming.’

So she simply didn’t understand why Tori couldn’t shut up about him. Especially since there was all that drama going on downstairs.

Amon: “She was like  ‘I’m too young for a serious relationship.’ and plum like that! Do you know what else she said?”

A: “That she needs to ‘experience life before settling down’.  What the plum! She would experience plenty of life with me! I’m the definition of life!”

D: “Yeah, buddy, she’s gonna regret it one day, you’ll see.”

A:  “I know, right?! I bet she’s already regretting it. Let’s face it, I’m a total catch. Every girl in school would kill to be in her place. And instead of being happy about it, she goes and dumps me, just like that!”

D: “She’s a cow. And you’re better off without her – she’s not even that hot, I’m telling you. You can do much better.”

Etta and Tori tried to talk some sense into Amon when his girlfriend Brylee broke up with him that afternoon. Nobody expected him to be too upset, since Amon never seemed to be crazy in love with her. But to their surprise, he was absolutely devastated. He stopped talking, he stopped eating, he even stopped working out.

They had to call Dante. And even though girls considered his pep talk ridiculous and childlish it worked. Amon started acting more reasonable. But still, for the next few days, he was down in the dumps. Heartbroken aura followed into every room he entered and the family wasn’t quite sure how to deal with him. It would probably last much longer, if it wasn’t for another emergency that took everyone’s mind of Brylee: Chris collapsed from exhaustion after a particularly hard week at work.

It was scary. One moment he was standing in front of the fridge, choosing between leftover chilli or fish tacos. And in another moment, he was lying on the floor, feeble and unconcious.

The dinner that day was dreadful. Melia went to the hospital with Chris, so the kids were on their own and they were terrified. For some reason, Etta couldn’t bring herself to eat in the dining room. That’s where they’ve always spent most time just hanging out as a family. And with mom and dad in the hospital, their family just didn’t feel quite right. So she went to eat outside instead and her sibling quietly followed.

Nobody said a word while they were eating. Etta knew that if she tried, she would probably end up crying and that wouldn’t help anybody. She was sure her siblings just realized the same thing as she did – that the time between birth and dead is limited. And it flies. Mercilessly.

Luckily, Chris was all right. He came back home the next day and they all sat together in the dinning room and listened to Melia.

M: “Your father needs a vacation. We’re leaving in thirty minutes. No excuses.”

Melia rented a comfortable cabin in Granite Falls that could accomodate all six of them. Tori wasn’t pleased to find out she had no service out there but she didn’t say anything. She knew the situation was serious and she didn’t want to upset her dad with complaints.

They arrived in the early evening and after unpacking and changing into oudoorsy clothes, they started the trip in a big style – by lightning the campfire. No one in the family went camping before, so it was a brand new experience for them all.

Tori: “The house was built in 1904…”

They roasted some hotdogs for dinner and then, they feasted on s’mores. They told jokes and ghost stories (sometimes both at the same time) until the night got chilly and not even the heat from the fire could help. It was nearly midnight when the kids said good night and raced towards the bathroom, every one of them hoping to be the first to shower. The run, however, didn’t prevent Etta from noticing how happy and calm her dad was and she went to bed feeling a bit relieved.

Next day, after quick breakfast, there were two separate activities. Boys went fishing with Chris. They didn’t have to wander too far away, since there was a river bay just a few steps behind the cabin.

Meanwhile, girls took a nice long dip in a natural pool that was also part of the rented lot.

For lunch, they agreed to grill fish, but unfortunately, boys didn’t catch anything worth grilling. Melia saw that coming. None of them tried fishing before, after all. Luckily, she was ready for this scenario – she brought plenty of groceries from home. And she had Etta to help her, of course.

The girls had the lunch ready in no time. And it was quite a feast. They served roasted chicken with herbs and root vegetables, potato casserole, Brussels sprout salad with cranberries and smoked almonds. And on top of that a scrumptious apple pie.

“Wow, Mom has really outdone herself today.”

After the meal, the family set out for the national park. Melia and Chris went on a long hike together, while Tori and Amon decided to sit in front of the public cabin because there was Wi-Fi available.

At least they were getting some fresh air, unlike their brother Seth, who stayed inside and admired the magnificent collection of insect that was on display.

Etta, on the other hand, wandered around the forest. She couldn’t really understand her siblings. The place was so beautiful and so different than Willow Creek. How could they be so unimpressed? She missed aunt Devi terribly. She knew she would have absolutely loved the place. Etta spent an entire afternoon looking for something nice for her aunt, something that would make it up to her a little.

In the evening, teens decided to be social and visited the campgrounds. The place was full of daring adventurers and noisy families and weirdos who couldn’t even read a map. Tori met a lot of interesting campers that night.

Edgar: “I haven’t shower for seven days. Body odours are the best bug repellents.”

And so did Amon.

“Hey, handsome, wanna spend the night at my place?”

Etta, on the other hand, continued her quest for the most unique souvenir for Devi.

“These fireflies will light up her room and bring in an outdoorsy feeling. She’ll love it.”

Mel and Chris headed straight back, because they were exhausted after the hike. At least that’s what they said. In reality, they just wanted to take the occasion to be alone together.

“I’m all yours tonight, darling.”

In the morning, Melia played cards with boys and she was smashing them.

M: “Ha, you’re both real noobs, do you know that?”

Chris decided to try the waters again, this time with girls. It was a good decision – Etta used to go fishing as a kid with Devi and she remembered a few things. That day, they had grilled fish for lunch.

Chris ate his serving quickly and went back to the river. Their weekend was slowly coming to an end. He felt rested and happy but he needed some time for quiet reflection. He couldn’t remember last time they spended together as a family and it made him feel absent. And distant. He had a lot to think about.

“Life is like a river, it passes quickly…”

Etta saw him there, wondering what he was thinking about. But she knew she shouldn’t disturb him. Her father always cherished his little alone moments. Maybe he even needed them from time to time.

Besides, Etta had her own thougts to ponder over. She’s got a text the night before. It was a short message, but long enough to make her heart skip a beat.

“Happy Valentine’s Day.”

It came unsigned, from an unknown number. Maybe it was even meant for somenone else. But Etta didn’t really care that much. Because the moment she read those words, she knew who she wanted it to be from. And that was more important than everything else.

‘I’m in trouble.’