Chapter 19: Trapped

“Etty, darling, put the books that are still usable to the boxes, please, so the boys can carry them to the car. I’m taking Seth to the store now. We should be back in an hour or so.”

Etta nodded although her dad couldn’t see her. She spent last two hours in the basement with old books, clothes and toys, deciding which were good enough to  be donated and which were going straight to the trash can. It was a tedious task, but Etta was happy to help.

“And don’t forget the lock is broken, okay? Okay, see you soon, cupcake!”

The idea to renovate the basement came after yet another heated argument between Amon and Seth. During the last two weeks, no day had passed without those two yelling at each other. At some point, Seth hacked into Amon’s phone, causing all sorts of trouble. When Amon found out, he slapped Seth across the face with such force it broke Seth’s glasses. Seth, understandably, fought back and then all hell broke lose.

That was the last straw. There was just so much conflict Melia could handle before realizing that her two sons simply couldn’t live with each other.

Moving one of them to the basement seemed too harsh and so it was decided to create two separate spaces there, one for each boy to spend his free time however he liked.

Melia: “No need to see each other. All. Day. Long! You’ll be still sharing the room up here, of course, because I’m not moving your beds to the cellar – yet – but I believe you can, at least, stay civil to each other while you sleep. Deal?”

And, probably for the first time in their life, Amon and Seth both agreed on something.

It meant a lot of work for the entire family, but everyone was just so happy, so eager to live without constant door slamming,  frequent swearing and endless cycles of insults that they all jumped right into it.

And so Etta found herself on the hard basement floor, surrounded by long forgotten household items and dusty furniture. It was both pleasant and heartbreaking to go through all  that old stuff. She hadn’t even thought of those things for years, but saying goodbye to them was harder than she originally anticipated.

Her nostalgic moment was suddenly interrupted by shrill noise of her phone ringing.

“Hello? Alexey?”

“I can’t tonight. I was telling you about this thing, wasn’t I? We’re renovating this weekend…yes…mhm.”

“Sure. See you Monday. Bye”

“Wow, that boy. I wish I was that resilient.”

Etta shaked her head, half-amused, half-annoyed and threw an especially heavy encyclopedia to the “still good” pile, when she heard the husky voice.

D: “Hey, there, girl! Do you often talk to yourself so much?”

E: “Do you often eavesdrop on people?”

Dante mumbled his answer, but the words were overpowered by the sound of the door slamming. As soon as Etta realized what happened, she ran towards them in futile attempt to open them again.

E: “NO! No no nonono! The lock’s broken, Dante! The door can only be open from the outside. We never close it when we’re in here.”

Etta knocked on the door loudly and called Amon’s name.

D: “It’s no use, he’s busy admiring his new workout machine. Aaron and Finn are helping him assemble it. I’m telling you, it’s worse than IKEA furniture. Plus, they increased the volume when your dad left.”

The music really was loud – she could hear it  from where she stood. There was no way she could out shout that. And Tori was with them, too, painting old shelves to make them look less pitiful.

E: “Great. So we’re trapped here for Watcher knows how long.”

She grumbled as she return to the giant pile of books on the floor.

D: “I think we’ll manage. So, you and the blond nerd, huh?”

Etta frowned and threw a book at him with exaggerated anger. He caught it and started paging through it casually.

E: “Don’t call him that, it’s mean.”

D: “Sorry, mommy.”

He smiled wryly, voice thick with mockery as he shut the book and threw it on the ground. Etta shaked her head and decided to join him on ancient bed that her mom used to sleep on when she was still a kid, but she remained quiet.

D: “Sooo, has he taken you out on a date yet?”

E: “What the… I mean, why do you even care?”

D: “Well, you said it yourself – we’e stuck here for awhile. I suggest we talk about something to pass the time.”

For some reason, his comment made her think of the advice she got from aunt Devi. ‘Tell him how you feel.’ She took a deep breath.

“Okay, maybe we could talk about…”

E: “….I don’t know. Books?”

‘You are such a coward, Etta Rossini.’

D: “Sure. Have you read any good ones lately?”

E: “Hmmm. No. Not really.”

D: “Neither have I. Great! Now that that’s out of the way – what’s up with Alexey?”

E: “Sheesh, just drop it. What are you jealous?”

‘LOL. I wish.”

D: “I just think it’s curious. I mean, what do you see in him, he’s so… completely bland. Not really a relationship material for a teenager. A girl your age needs some excitement.”

“You say it like you’re some kind of authority. What do you know about relationships, anyway? Your longest one lasted like… 12 hours?”

D: “You think I’m a terrible, heartless person, because I’m promiscuous?

“I don’t think you’re a terrible, heartless person at all. I just think you’re not the right person to pass judgment on such matters, when you… you’ve never even loved anyone.”

“I have, actually.”

E: “Yeah, but your mom doesn’t count.”

To her surprise, he didn’t laugh at her snarky comment.

D: “Well, I hate to break it to you, but I haven’t spoken to my mother for seven years. There are days, bad days, when I feel nothing but hate towards her. But today’s a good day, so let’s call it resentment.”

Etta was taken aback – his voice had never been so dark and serious before. At least not in front of her. She suddenly felt really stupid for joking around like that.

E: “I had no idea! I shouldnt have said that. I’m sorry.”

D: “It’s fine. You weren’t that far off. I was talking about my sister. So technically, it still doesn’t count.”

He tried to make it sound like it wasn’t a big deal at all, but it didn’t work. Etta felt even more ashamed for being inconsiderate before.

E: “I…. I didn’t know you have a sister.”

D: “That’s because I don’t. Not anymore.”

Hearing that, Etta’s heart skipped a beat in terror. She figured what it meant and she didn’t want it to be true, she didn’t want him to say the words out loud. The basement suddenly felt so much colder.

D: “She died when she was 16.”

E: “Oh, no! Dante, I’m so sor…”

But before she could finish the sentence, her phone buzzed. It was a text from mom.

E: “Sorry, my mom wants me to set the table. I guess I’ll have to dissapoint her.”

Dante just shrugged, lost in thoughts and Etta started typing the reply, when the idea struck her.

E: “Wow, I’m a real idiot. I have a phone! I can call them to let us out. How didn’t I think of it sooner?”

She dialed Amon’s number, then Tori’s, but none of her siblings picked up.

E: “I guess the music’s too loud?”

D: “Don’t worry about it. Someone will notice our absence sooner or later. Besides, it’s not that bad down here. With you.”

Something in his tone made her glance at him. There was a soft smile on his lips and strange intensity in his eyes, glimpses of longing and angst, pleas and promises, doubts. Etta couldn’t quite put her finger on what it was she was seeing but she knew he had never looked at her like that before. Like he was lost.

She leaned in.

E: “Tell me about her. What was her name, what was she like?”

D: “About Angie? Well, she was… tough. Stubborn at times. Overly independent and bossy, too. But she kinda had to be, since mother wasn’t around most of the time. Angie basically raised me on her own.”

D: “But she had another, softer side to her, you know. She was funny. Kind. Selfless and loving, very protective of family, even my mother. Oh and she was a math genius. Ridiculously smart and driven. She was… everything, I guess.”

D: “You remind me of her sometimes.”

His voice was but a whisper when he gently touched her hand.

E: “Tough and bossy, huh?”

D: “No, not that. You see, the thing about Angie was… that whenever she went, she was always the most interesting person in the room.”

D: “She had this calm, confident charm about her, that made her presence  comforting and at the same time – slightly intimidating. But even to strangers, she felt like home. Like safety. “

“Just like you.”

Etta wanted to object, feeling like she was none of those things he just mentioned, when his weight shifted slightly. It brought him closer to her, so close she could feel the heat of his breath on her face. There was the look in his eyes again, intense and dreamy,  that was drawing her in, hypnotizing her, until their lips met in a kiss.

Well, almost. Because in that moment, the door opened wide and hit the bed just a few inches from Etta, who, startled by the unexpected sound, jumped.

Tori: “Hey, noobs!”

Tori’s smiling face appeared seconds after that, informing them the lunch was ready and making fun of their temporary prison. Etta tried her best to act innocent, wondering how much her sister saw.

She got her answer as they were leaving the basement together.

T: “Just… be careful, okay? He’s got quite a reputation and he’s got it for a reason, you know. Whatever he told you, he probably…”

But Etta’s mind was already miles away. She was too astonished by to pay attention to such mundane things as words of advice. She didn’t need those where she was – on cloud nine.

Chapter 18: Devi to the rescue

Etta was mad. Disappointed too. And slightly embarrassed.  But mostly mad.

“As it turned out, the prince I thought I kissed was not really a prince after all. At least not for me. Maybe I should just kiss you, what do you say, Louis?”

At first, she was mad at Dante. Or she wanted to be. But she knew it wasn’t really his fault – people couldn’t decide what to memorize. It wasn’t like he did it on purpose.

Besides, Dante was still visiting them regularly for his music lessons and Etta found it impossible to stay away from him. Getting a chance to be around him and not taking it… still felt like a terrible waste. Everytime she saw his face or made him smile or simply heard him ringing the door bell, it made her heart flutter like there was a humming bird trapped inside her chest  – and she was getting addicted to the rush.

Dante was not helping, either. Clueless about what he was doing to her heart and mind and her whole existence, he started scheduling his lessons with Devi more often. And what was even worse (or better), he hanged around their house longer after each one of them.

They were never up to anything fancy. Mostly he watched her cook dinner and although she never persuaded him to help with preparations, he always happily helped with eating.

Dante: “If I could sing like you can cook, I would be a plumming rock star by now. Seriously, Etta, people need this. People need your food. You’re committing a crime by keeping this to yourself.”

They also talked a lot. About school and after school plans, about music and football and food. About their families, too. Etta told him some embarrassing childhood stories about Amon and Dante regularly shared the craziest family histories with her.

D: “So, my grandfather, Don, never married grandma Dina. He actually married her mom! But not before he had an affair with grandma’s sister Nina. And he also got all three of them pregnant – while they all lived in one house!”

Etta: “Hm, I’m pretty sure you’re making this up.”

D: “Oh, come on! I’m not creative enough to come up with something that plummed up. Too bad grandfather left before my mother was even born. He sounds like a fun guy to hang out with. He could probably teach me a thing or two.”

E: “Yeah, like how to get chlamydia.”

D: “Holy plum, someone’s been paying attention in sex ed, huh?”

Sometimes, he played a few songs for her while constantly making fun of his lack of skill, although that joke was getting less and less funny every time, since Dante’s playing was actually getting better rapidly. He usually played some sappy love song from the 80s, because they had easier chords, as he explained.

Etta didn’t mind. There were only very few things in the world she found more mesmerizing than Dante at that point of her life, but singing Dante was definitely one of them. The lyrics were often so suggestive that Etta was sure he chose them on purpose to torture her.

“I wanna know what love is.”

“I want you to show me.”

Etta to herself: ‘Oh, I’ll show you right now, boy.’

Still, it was a strangely pleasant torture. Too bad it was always over when Amon came home, since Dante was only sticking around until Amon showed up and then they headed out together. But Etta was grateful for every second. The boys were already seniors in high school. Soon, they would graduate and leave and her few stolen moments with Dante would end forever. She just couldn’t afford being angry at him, when their time was so limited.

So instead, the poor girl was mad at herself. She was mad for being so naive, for letting herself hope that someone like Dante could ever be interested in her. He was the most popular guy in their school, a talented athlete and musician and also the most handsome person she has ever seen. He could have any girl he pointed his finger at.

‘Why on earth would he choose me?’

It was hopeless. She knew it. But no matter how much she fought it, she couldn’t get rid of those feelings. On the contrary. Few weeks went by and Etta realized that what was once a pure physical reaction changed  to actual affection. She cared about him. She cared about his well-being, she cared about his daring dreams, she cared about his heart, simply because she knew now he had one, no matter how hard he tried to hide it with his playboy manners and indifferent attitude.

She cared about him. And it was almost unbearable.

But Etta was not the only one to notice the change.

Devi: “Hmmm, I feel like we should talk.”

E: “What? Why?”

D: “Dunno! I just feel like we should. It’s been awhile since we talked. I feel like talking to you.”

E: “You’re being weird, Devi.”

Etta was suspicious, but her aunt just winked at her like it was no big deal.

D: “Aren’t we all, from time to time? I have an open air concert in the park tonight. Wanna come?”

After Etta’s hesitant little nod, she smiled brightly.

D: “Awesome! Let me change to something more comfortable and we’re good to go.”

Etta was glad she came. Watching Devi perform was energizing and uplifting. She knew Devi was highly skilled and talented musician, she had heard her practice many times before. Daily. But seeing her perform, seeing the energy she poured into her music was a totally different experience.

Afterwards, they sat to eat veggie burgers Etta prepared for them and after a very brief, pleasant small talk, Devi looked at her niece knowingly:

D: “Etta, I know you better than you think. I can see something’s troubling you. So if you feel like talking about it, I’m right here.”

Etta sighed. She did feel like talking about it, she just didn’t want anyone to know that such a ridiculous matter was troubling her. It was such a petty thing in the grand scheme of things, after all.

Etta: “So…there’s… this one…boy….”

It sounded even worse than she imagined it and Devi’s badly hidden ‘I knew it’ look didn’t help.

E: “Geez, don’t give me the look, Devi.”

D: “Sorry. Go on.”

E: “Okay, so there’s this boy and he is… he’s kinda terrible. He swears a lot and he doesn’t take school seriously. He’s unpredictable, frustrating, immature, even reckless sometimes. And he’s also a bit of flirt.”

D: “And let me guess – you can’t stop thinking about him.”

E: “Pretty much. Tell me, Devi, have I lost my mind?”

E: “Because I DON’T want to like him! I’ve never intended to feel this way, it’s just… I think I also see someone else beneath all that. And that someone is… unlike all the other boys I know.”

D: “I see. And how does he feel about all this?”

E: “How should I know? It’s not like I can go and ask him…”

D: “Why not? Maybe you should. It might be a relevant piece of information for him.”

E: “Well, I’ve tried, but… It’s hard. I mean, he’s way out of my league.”

D: “First of all, the ‘league’ is made up high school plum. And second of all: of course it’s hard. Being vulnerable and exposed is the hardest thing, my sweet. But don’t let your fear hold you back. If you love someone, there is no possible harm in saying so.”

E: “No possible harm? But what if…”

D: “Only a psychopath would feel anything but pleased to hear that someone finds them attractive, Etta. At worst, he doesn’t feel the same and you’ll be exactly where you are now – not with him, right?”

D: “But at best, he does feel the same and he’s  scared to tell you, just like you are.”

“And if that’s the case – it would be a waste of  a possibly great love story, don’t you think?”