Chapter 22: Moonlight Massacre

The mood at the Rossini Residence was bleak. Etta hadn’t spoken to her brother since his atrocious outburst a couple of days ago and she wasn’t planning on changing that anytime soon. To get back at her, he was refusing to do the chores as he had promised before and as a result, Melia found the house in a terrible state upon her return from San Myshuno and neither of them wanted to talk to her about it. Or to each other.

Melia: “Honey, what happened? Why are so grumpy all of the sudden?”

Etta: “Oh, just work. Cofeeshop  was absolute hell today. Whatever. But you!”

“You have to tell me everything! How was the shooting? And the contestants? Are they any good? What was the assignment?

Melia couldn’t wait to share everything from recipes to behind the scenes gossip with her daughter and she started describing her trip in great detail, but she was soon interrupted by loud steps on the stairs. Etta recognised Amon’s walk immediately and, unwilling to face him just yet, she kissed her mother goodbye and left for school early.

Normally, Etta would be feeling under the weather about it. She was not the type to hold grudges and she despised family conflicts because of the never ending Amon vs. Seth quarell that was exhausting everyone around.

But Etta wasn’t her normal self lately. At first, she had been obsessing about her little breakdown at the party, worried that she had embarrassed herself in front of Dante. She couldn’t understand why he had to catch her at those low, tearful moments all the time – first at the pool party at his place and now this. He must think her an insufferable crybaby.

But her  paranoid scenarios were over when he texted.

Etta’s heart made a backflip when she saw his name pop up on her screen. It took her good ten minutes to craft a somehow satisfactory response. He answered back and they had been texting constantly ever since. It was ridiculous, utterly absurd how happy it made her feel. Etta was sure her eyes changed into actual hearts every time her phone beeped.

She still didn’t find the courage to actually tell him about her feelings, though. And he didn’t imply anything, either. They had been circling around the topic for days, talking about everything but their feelings for each other.

Etta: *to herself* ‘If there are any at all at his side, that is.’

They had become close, sure, but Etta didn’t want to ruin it with a big confession like that. He probably only saw her as a good friend. Come to that, he was not acting particularly romantic towards her.

‘But then again, neither am I, right? Maybe Devi’s right, maybe he’s just as scared as I am.’

But every time she persuaded herself to finally do it, there was this little annoying voice in her head, planting seeds of doubt.

‘Yeah, right. Dante having difficulties talking to a girl. That’s like mom struggling to cook pasta. No way.’

Unable to decide the dilemma on her own, she decided to wait for some kind of a sign, a prove, a hint that he liked her back at least a little – an outcome she still considered close to impossible. She still found it fascinating to think about, though. So much that she could barely do anything else, ever.

Seth: “Etta, HELLO! Are you even listening to me? Screwdriver, come on!”

But not everybody in the house was that clueless. Aunt Devi definitely figured some things out.


‘I spy with my little eye…’

Devi’s observation skills were impeccable and she had all the evidence she needed.  Etta longingly staring at her phone for hours. Dante coming over daily to ‘hang out with Amon’ and then not bothering finding Amon at all and chatting with Etta for hours instead. Etta suddenly caring about her appearance a lot. The moment Devi saw her in a dress for the first time she she was six years old, everything added up.

Devi: “Woah, you look nice today!”

Etta recognized her aunt’s prying tone, but she didn’t took the bait and answered as innocently as she could.

Etta: “What do you mean today? Don’t I always?”

Devi: “Sorry, let me rephrase that: your eyeliner is on fleek, girl.”

Etta laughed, impressed by her aunt’s unusual knowledge of slang and she was about to compliment her on using it correctly, when Amon walked in and ruined their pleasant morning.

Amon: “Hey, Devi, you alright? Can you give me and Etta two minutes?”

Devi: “Sure thing, see ya later, kids.”

Etta rolled her eyes, quickly grabbed her oatmeal from the microwave and tried to leave with her aunt, but Amon was quick. He turned and stood next to her chair, successfully blocking her escape route. She reluctantly returned to her breakfast while Amon grabbed some eggs from the fridge.

Amon: “Etta, please. Please, talk to me! I don’t like this… this cold war between us.”

Etta: “Well, maybe you should have thought about that before you went all ballistic on me at the party!”

Amon: “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean a word I said, you know that.”

Amon: “Look, I… I was drunk. I know that’s not an excuse, but I was really drunk and I wasn’t thinking straight. You were right – what you said that night was true and I should have listened to you. I should have taken your side. I’ve only agreed with Taylor because I wanted to get laid.”

Etta snorted with contempt and tried to leave again. But Amon was not done.

“Which was totally unacceptable, of course! I feel terrible about it, really.”

He paused for a moment and after he was sure she gave up her attempts to escape, he took Devi’s seat and started eating.

Amon: “I’m so sorry that I hurt you. It will never happen again.”

Etta: “You promise?”

Amon: “I promise. Why don’t you join us for the Moonlight Massacre Marathon tonight? This time, I really invited just a couple of friends.”

Etta: “I’ll think about it.”

She was, of course,  lying. She didn’t need to think about it because she knew she was coming the second he asked. She would not waste the opportunity to see Dante.

A few hours later, armed with popcorn and a push-up bra, she was making her way downstairs to Amon’s ‘gym/man cave’ as he called it. Dante was already there but the two boys didn’t noticed she entered, because they were too engrossed in what seemed like a serious conversation.

Amon: “What do you mean, my sister?”

Upon hearing those words, Etta quickly backed out of the room, eyes wide open in shock. Her heart was once again beating like a runaway horse when she realized they were talking about her. She knew she shouldn’t but she was dying to hear it.

Amon: “Forget it, Dante, you treat girls like shit.”

Dante: “No, that would be you! Remember what you said to Gracie Arrington on Love Day?”

“Oh, she had it coming! Whatever, that’s not the point. The point is that my sister is not a plaything for you to have fun with, capish?”

Dante: “Oh, but the other girls are just fine for you to banalize as pleasure objects, right? Man, you’re such a hypocrite.”

Amon: “What the plum is your problem, Dante? Just because your sister is safe…”

Etta gasped. She couldn’t believe Amon would drag Angie into it. She was dead, for Watcher’s sake. He didn’t need to stoop so low. It was none of his business, anyway.

She didn’t get to hear the rest, because Tori and some other kids from school were coming down the stairs and the boys’ voices faded in the loud stomping and cheerful chatter.

Tori: “You guys ready?”

Etta quickly walked into the room, trying to keep her face as straight as possible.

Dante was already seated on the couch. He smiled at her when their eyes met and patted the cushions next to himself, suggesting she should sit there.

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

They sat together in silence. Etta was really trying to concentrate on the movie but  every now and then, she could feel his eyes on her and it made her so painfully self-aware that she barely dared to move.

For some reason, she could only think about how uncomfortably her tongue rested in her mouth and how odd and clunky her arms were, just hanging around her body like that. She was glad when someone finally dimmed the lights during the chainsaw scene and hid her awkwardness in the dark so she could finally relax a little.

Thirty minutes into the second movie, she suddenly remembered the argument she had witnessed before. The movie was terrible anyway, so she occupied herself thinking about that. Amon and Dante were friends since they were kids and she had never seen them arguing before. She knew Amon loved Dante like he was his brother – actually, much more than that –  and she didn’t want to be the cause of their conflict. But at the same time, it made her feel so hopeful. Dante woudn’t ask those things just for fun. He wouldn’t risk his friendship with Amon over nothing. So it could mean that – and she barely dared to think it – he felt something, too.

Encouraged by this train of thought, Etta waited for Amon to dissapear in the bathroom with his girl of the day and then, she spoke to Dante in a low voice, preventing other kids from hearing her.

Etta: “Dante? What’s going on?”

Dante: “He’s just tried to escape from the camp but it turned out his girlfriend was kinda like a bait? To lure him into the forrest, you know? So now they can perform the surgery in him and…”

Etta interrupted him with a nervous laugh and shook her head a little.

Etta: “No, not the movie. I meant… What’s going on with us? Things just feel so… different.”

Dante froze for what felt like ages. Etta was already cursing herself for ruining everything, when he swiftly moved closer to her and smiled.

D: “Us, huh?”

Dante slowly rolled that word in his mouth in a way that sent shivers down her spine and it lingered in the air between them like a physical object. Then he slowly leaned even closer and whispered.

D: “Well, hm. This is just a wild guess in my part, but what might be going on – and again, I’m simply guessing here -“

D: ” – is that I’d like to take you out on a date sometime.”

Etta was internally screaming with joy. She had to make effort to stop herself from jumping up and doing a happy dance right there and then. It was just too good to be true. She probably fell asleep while watching the movie and started dreaming.

Etta: “Please, tell me this is not some kind of a bad prank? I’ve seen enough teen comedies to know that popular jocks only date the nerdy girl when they make a bet with their friends.”

To her surprise, Dante just laughed warmly, still looking right at her.

D: “You do realize who your brother is, right? You know his temper – if anyone tried to trick you like that, he would kill them. Plum, I’m pretty sure I’m risking my life just by asking you out.”

Etta: “You are a brave, brave man, aren’t you?”

Dante nodded and hesitantly reached for her hand.

D: “So what do you think?”

Etta: “I think it’s a date.”

Chapter 21: Like a rain

“Yes, Mom, we’re eating our veggies. Yes, we do our homeworks every day. No, we haven’t killed each other. Well, not yet.”

“Of course, we take care of each other. Don’t worry about us, we’re fine.”

“What about you? How’s shooting going? How do you like San Myshuno? Should I add it on my bucket list?

Etta listened carefully to her mother’s chatter. She sounded better. Healthy. Even enticed.

After their inicial talk, it took a few more days for Melia to collect herself, but once she did, she was keeping busy.  The kids had been surviving on peanut butter sandwiches since the funeral, the house was fairly neglected and the garden…

…well, the garden looked as pitiful as Melia felt.

Goodbye, Gus!

She had got a lot of work to do. Luckily,  seeing her up and about infused the rest of the household with a new spirit. With their mom back, they felt a bit more like a family. A painfully incomplete family, but a family nonetheless. They were ready to help.

Few weeks and hours of persuasion later, Melia replied to the letter she had gotten from the SimChef producers  and soon after that, it was time for her first screen tests and shoots. With a heavy heart, Melia left her teenagers home with Devi and flew to San Myshuno.

That didn’t stop her from  stressing over her children’s well-being, of course. She was calling twice a day, armed with dozens of questions and concerns.

Etta was thinking about it on her way home from school and she decided she didn’t mind. It was a sign her mom was slowly getting back to normal and Etta would do anything to help with the process, even if it meant answering even a thousand phone calls a day. She was ready to be on her best behavior.

However, not everyone in the household was of the same mind as Etta found out when she got home. She was just raiding the fridge for leftovers, when Amon appeared out of nowhere, grabbed some frittata and took it to the living room to enjoy his lunch on a comfy couch. Etta followed him, the question already on her lips.

E: “Amon? What are you doing home so early? It’s only 12:30!”

A: “Etta! Well, I mean, I…. I… I could ask you the same question!”

E: “Mr Harrison is sick, they sent us home after fifth period. What about you?”

A: “I am, uhm, s-sick as well.”

E: “Mhm, sure, and I am Tinkerbell. Are you ditching school?”

A: “Me? I would never!”

E: “…”

A: “Please, don’t tell mom.”

E: “Only if you do all my chores for the next month.”

A: “Oh, come on! Can’t you just be nice for a change and help your brother out? Just this once?”

But Etta was unmoved by his pleas and remained quiet until he gave up.

A: “Ugh, fine, we have a deal.”

E: “Wonderful! Enjoy your free afternoon then, because tomorrow is laundry day.”

Amon rolled his eyes and grumbled.

Amon: “Oh, and by the way….”

E: “What?”

A: “Well, Devi won’t be back from her concert till tomorrow so I invited a couple of friends over.”

Etta instantly thought of the essay about Lord of Frogs that was due Monday and a pile of unfinished AP microeconomics exercises on her desk and she was about to say no, but then she remembered Dante was Amon’s friend, too.

E: “As long as they won’t bother me, I couldn’t care less. Just promise you’ll be quiet.”

Amon rolled his eyes again and nodded as she left the living room. Etta then rushed upstairs, craving a few moments of solitude.  She grabbed the book, determined to finish it that day, so she could start working on her essay. But the book was not as exciting as she would like it to be. Soon she found herself drifting off only to be abruptly awaken by ear-splitting, harsh noises.

‘What the…’

Etta was disoriented for a second, staring at the dark sky outside and then she realized she probably slept for a couple of hours. She quickly identified the source of the sounds – dance music and chanting and laughs – and she immediately felt her blood boiling with anger.

“AMON!!”

She walked out of her room, only to find people crawling all over the place and a whole crowd of her schoolmates dancing and singing along the stupidest song she had ever heard right there in the hallway.

Amon was among them, trying to dance his way towards Taylor, a super pretty cheerleader he hadn’t dated yet.

Etta: “Amon, can I talk to you somewhere quiet, please?”

A: “Sure, I can barely hear you over the music here.”

He slowly walked away and the little group he had been dancing with dispersed towards the other side of the room. Except for Taylor who did not like the interuption.

Taylor: “What the hell are YOU doing here, Ella? I thought this party was for cool people, haha!”

E: “My name’s Etta. And this is my house. Now if you excuse me… sorry, what was your name again? Oh, wait, I don’t care.”

Etta didn’t wait for an answer and without wasting another breath on that plum, she left. She found Amon in the kitchen with a usual smug grin on his face.

A: “What’s up?”

E: “Look. You said you invited a few friends, not half of our school! They’re literally everywhere! Don’t you think….”

A: “Weeeeeell, I mean, you know how fast news spread in this town. We’re just having fun, so what?”

E: “First of all, stop acting like you’re all just playing board games here, okay? Pretty much everyone is drunk, three strangers are smoking weed in my bathroom and I just saw someone in Devi’s room, you know… getting busy!”

A: “Good for them, I guess?”

E: “And second of all! Have it crossed your mind how inappropriate this is? We are in mourning, Amon! It’s disrespectful to throw parties just moments after dirt was scattered on your father’s casket, fo Watcher’s sake! How are you even in a party mood?”

A guilty expression flashed through his face, but before he could say anything, his lovely lady friend appeared, pushed Etta out of the way and gave her a disaproving, mocking look.

Taylor: “Sheeesh, what a buzzkill.”

Etta ignored her remark and  took a deep breath in, trying hard to keep her voice down.

E: “When do you plan to kick everybody out?”

A: “Oh, come on, Etta, don’t be so lame! Why don’t you grab a drink and just hang out?”

E: “Because unlike you, there’s still some human decency left in me, you absolute muppet!”

In that moment Dante walked in throught the garden door, wearing a swimsuit for some reason and inquiring about more alcohol. Amon gladly jumped at the opportunity and escaped the conversation.

Amon: “Let me find you some beer, bro.”

Etta felt tears burning in her eyes as she stood there like she was invisible while they all went about their business. Amon tried his best to acknowledge her as little as possible and she never felt more awkward and helpless.

Etta: “Amon, please, can you at least turn the volume down? I’m trying to…”

But Taylor’s cold, disdainful laugh cut her off mid-sentence.

T: “Oh, dear Watcher, just tell her what a pain in the plum she is, Amon!”

Etta: “Shut up, Barbie, it’s none of your business!”

A: “Whoa, watch it, sis, don’t talk to her like that! I think she’s right. Why can’t you stop being so uptight for one night and just have some fun, for plum’s sake!”

Etta could not believe her ears. She was genuinely counting on him to defend her against Taylor,  not the other way around. The betrayal left her speechless, but her brother was not done.

Amon: “Geeez, it’s not a coincidence you have no friends. Who would want to hang out with a bore like you!”

His words were like a slap in the face. She wasn’t ready for the humiliation that came with it, neither for Taylor’s hysterical laughter. For the first time in her life, she wanted to say something awful, too, she wanted to hurt him and to share her heartache, but she couldn’t fight the tears any longer. She turned around and ran to her room, sobs escaping her lips already.

A couple of minutes later, someone knocked on her door.

E: “Go to hell, Amon!”

But he, of course, did not respect her wishes and walked in. Except that it wasn’t Amon.

Dante: “Hey, it’s me.”

Etta sprang up from her bed in panic. He sounded genuinely concerned and on any other day, that alone would probably make her feel better. Right now, though, she was upset and confused and she didn’t want to see him any more than her awful brother. But more importantly, she didn’t want him to see her like this. She desperately needed few moments to collect herself.

D: “I just… You seemed really hurt by what Amon said and… not that I blame you, I mean, what a piece of plum! Honestly, it’s not true what he said. Lots of people want to hang out with you, he’s an idiot and I’m not here to apologize him.”

E: “Why are you here, then?”

D: “I just wanted to check if you were okay.”

E: “I will be, don’t worry about me.”

Etta wiped her tears and waited for him to leave, but he just sighed and came closer, his voice breathy and soft as a summer breeze.

D: “Listen, I know what you’re doing, okay? I know, because Angie was the same when our mother left us. She was doing everything in her power to stay strong and take care of me, just like you take care of your family. I know you want to protect them from the grief.”

She didn’t know what to say. With terror, she realized he was right and it paralyzed her to be suddenly so exposed. She didn’t have the strength to respond.

“But the thing is – you can’t, Etta. You can’t do this for them. Just like no one can do it for you. The grief… you can’t hide it behind the grief of others. It will always be there, so there’s no point fighting it. Just… take it. Take it like the earth takes rain, feel it, live it, let it cleanse you.”

He gently pulled her even closer and Etta, not fully realizing it, let herself fall further into his arms.

D: “It’s okay to be hurting, okay? It’s not a shame, it’s not a weakness and it’s not a burden. But if you ever feel like it is, I’m here, okay? I’m right here.”

Etta couldn’t stand it anymore. Something broke in her when he said it, the words scared her to death with their accuracy. They shook her soul and resonated with her very core and she cried and cried and he held her like there was nothing else in the world but her sorrow.

And for the first time in weeks, she didn’t feel alone in the world.