Chapter 17: Much Ado About Nothing





“You kissed Dante Lothario!”

E: “SHHHHHH! For plum’s sake, keep your voice down.”

Etta hissed at Billie angrily as panic washed over her and she quickly scanned the street for potential eavesdroppers. They were on their way to school and other kids could be taking the same road. She really didn’t want this to get out, at least not before speaking with Dante. Being involved with a popular boy like that… she could imagine what an uproar it would cause.

But the coast was clear and Etta’s expression changed from a frown to bashful smile as she corrected her amazed friend.

E: “Well, technically, he kissed me.”

B: “Finally something interesting happened in this stupid little town.”

B: “Soooo, how was it? Did you lick his abs?”

E: “BILLIE!!!”

B: “What? I would have!”

E: “Yeah, but you’re a mental case.”

B: “Hey! Alright, Miss Boring. Will you tell me the whole story or do you want me to die of anticipation?”

Etta shook her head in amusement but she obliged. She wouldn’t admit it, but she was dying to tell someone about it  – all the excitement was just too much to handle. And Billie was the perfect person, because she acted almost as thrilled as Etta felt.

E: “And then he said…”

After school, she rushed to the library. Her class got a new science assignment that day and Etta was ready to start working on it. She found three books that looked helpful and, pleased with herself, she hid in her favourite quiet corner of study hall and indulged herself in mysteries of physics.

However, the studying didn’t really go as smoothly as usual. Maybe it was because of the subject…

‘Every planetary body is surrounded by its own gravitational field, which can be conceptualized with Newtonian physics as exerting an attractive force on all objects.’

“Hmm, that sounds like Dante.”

…but she was distracted and unfocused like never before. Disturbed, she shut the book and, in a very untypical fashion, left the library quite soon.

But if she was hoping to find a better study environment at home, she was terribly mistaken. She barely made it to the kitchen when she heard the thumps and angry screams.

It was Seth. He was standing in front of the door to his room, hammering at it with his fists, his face red and his voice furious.

“AMON!! Open the door! Do you HEAR ME?! Open the plumming DOOR!!”

Etta didn’t know what happened and she wasn’t sure if she wanted to. Amon and Seth had been unbearable for  quite some time now. It was a never-ending cycle of insults and arguments with those two. When they weren’t fighting, they were denying each other’s existence or at least trying to make the life of the other an absolute nightmare. But a scene of this proportion was a new occurence.

“AMON! Just take your brainless bimbo and GO TO HELL!!!”

Etta rolled her eyes in frustration. So it was because of some girl once again. Etta hated Amon for rubbing the fact he never had a girlfriend in Seth’s face like that, but it was rather hard to feel sympathy for Seth when he was being so mean. She was considering if she should intervene somehow, when the front door opened and Melia walked in.

Melia: “What is going on here?”

Etta noticed her mama sounded tense and weary.

Seth: “MOM! Amon brought another hooker to our house! And they locked themselves in my room! REALLY! And they’ve been there for hours! Mom! He’s…”

And then, the door opened and Amon walked out with a big  smile on his face, looking surprised.

Amon: “Oh, hello, everyone. Are we having a family gathering or what?”

But before anyone could react, Seth turned and started shouting at him, his rage pouring out of him like poisonous vapors. And Amon was just smiling and looking at him, baffled. Etta couldn’t help but admire his nerve.

“YOU! You plumming bastard! I’m gonna…”

Mama sighed, rubbing her forehead. She was clearly exhausted and Etta wasn’t sure if it was work or annoyance over boys’ tiresome, inconclusive dispute.

M: “I can’t deal with you two right now.

M: “You’re both grounded and I don’t want to hear another word about it.”

And with that, she turned around and disappeared on the second floor, leaving both boys so shocked and speechless that they didn’t even notice Amon’s friend sneaking out of the house with inaudible goodbye.

“Ehm, see ya later – or not.”

Hour or two later, Etta found Seth outside, practicing chess.

Etta: “Hey.”

Seth: “Ugh.”

E: “Do you want me to talk to Mom? I could…”

S: “For plum’s sake, Etta. How many times do I have to tell you: I DON’T NEED YOUR HELP! Buzz off!!”

So she went. It saddened her when she realized Seth’s words didn’t even surprise her; heck, she expected him to yell at her. It’s become his new normal.

It was troubling, but so were other things. Like the fact that Dante didn’t call nor texted and Etta wasn’t sure where they stood after the kiss. She’d never kissed anyone before, she didn’t know the protocol. Dante, on the other hand, kissed lots and lots of people. And she didn’t want to admit the possibility that it didn’t mean anything to him, but she knew in the back of her mind that it was likely.

She was naturally anxious when he showed up for his music lesson. It was Tuesday afternoon, five days after the party, when he rang at their door. Etta waited patiently until she heard the piano and once she was sure the lesson started, she went downstairs. Their eyes met for a brief second when she entered the room and he immediately hit the wrong note. Etta smiled as she sat at the dinning table and opened her chemistry book, ready to work on her homework while he practiced like so many times before.

After the first half of the lesson, Devi took a little break and Dante shifted in his seat so he was looking in her direction.

Dante: “Are you deaf yet?”

Etta rolled her eyes at his joke.

Etta: “So that’s your intention! And here I thought you were scaring the ghosts away.”

Dante snorted.

E: “Uhm, are you hungry? I made fish tacos for lunch and there are still some left.”

He was, so they headed to the kitchen. Etta exhaled slowly as they grabbed their plates, gathering courage to ask him about the whole kissing incident.

“You really made these? Oh, boy, why don’t you… I don’t know, leave school and open a taco place? Or a pancakes place or something like that. You’re a pro!”

Encouraged by his pancakes remark, Etta tried to bring up the tricky subject.

E: “Maybe one day. Listen, Dante. I thought… maybe we should talk?”

D: “Sure! About what?”

Etta bit her lip. He wasn’t helping and she didn’t like the carefree tone in his voice.

E: “Well, you know. About what happened. At the party…?”

D: “Oh, you mean when Striker puked on Carlie’s hair? Man, that was pretty something!”

Etta broke off. Why was he playing  like this? He had to know what a big deal it was for her and Dante was many things but he wasn’t cruel.

D: “Etta? You were saying?”

She hesitated. He was looking at her with raised eyebrows and a confused smile.

He was clueless. Absolutely clueless. He had no idea what she was hinting at. And it was either a very good act or…

“You don’t remember.”

D: “You bet your sweet ass I don’t! I had so much booze that day I couldn’t even remember the party happened until others told me about it and…”

But Etta was not listening to him anymore.


Chapter 16: Party

A/N: Hey, everyone, I know it’s been months, but I’m back now and I have a bunch of chapters ready for you! And since it’s been so long, I went and re-read the previous chapters so you don’t have to. Here’s a quick summary of past events:

Teenage Etta’s got a job at a café, partly for the experience, partly to help out with finances, because she felt bad her dad worked so much. And it was somewhat justified, since her father had an exhaustion collapse shortly after that. Etta’s brother Amon got dumped out of nowhere and he decided to get over it by hooking up with as many girls as humanly possible. Together with his best friend Dante Lothario, they are known as the biggest womanizers in school. And it complicates things, because, of course, Etta has had a crush on Dante since he started taking music lessons at their house. In the last chapter, Etta had a huge argument with both her brothers and she was also invited to Dante’s party.

I hope that helped refresh your memory a bit! Enjoy!

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

Etta was freaking out. She stared at her reflection in the mirror and she didn’t know how to calm the chaos in her mind. How on earth was she supposed to face Dante, the most gorgeous, radiant, stunning guy in the world, while wearing only a bikini? She had no clue how  to gain enough confidence for that.

And she still suspected her sister forgot to mention the party was a pool party on purpose.

Tori: “Etty, please! Just look at you – I swear you have nothing to worry about. Except maybe totally blowing their minds.”

T: “Come on, put your dress on!”

Etta rolled her eyes and tried to focus, but her stomach was making backflips at the mere thought of the party. With Tori’s help,  she somehow managed the preparations, but she barely remebered it afterwards. It was like she fell into some kind of a trance.

And it didn’t get better when they got there. Quite the opposite.

T: “So, here we are! And everyone’s wearing a swimsuit. Let’s go change!”

Etta noticed the swimsuits  – especially on pretty cheerleaders who constantly followed Dante around and stared at him with dreamy eyes.

‘I don’t blame them,’ she thought to herself  with a light heart but it quickly sank when she realized she never talked to any of the cool kids there. Once again, she felt totally out of her element.  She couldn’t think of anything fun or interesting to say as they mingled, so she stayed stubbornly quiet and followed Tori around like a lost puppy.

Tori: “So, how do you like it so far?”

E: “Fine, I guess. Everyone’s much nicer than in school.”

T: “They are not bad people, Etta. And they are not going to bite your nose off, if you speak to them, I promise.”

E: “I’ve never said they’re bad! I just think we have nothing in common.”

T: “You’ll never find out unless you give them a chance! Why don’t you wait for me in the jacuzzi while I get us something to drink? Stella there is really funny and nice, I’ll introduce you.”

Stella really was nice. And talkative. And Etta was starting to feel less tense as she talked to her about swimming and movie adaptations and summer plans.

Stella: “It was such a cheap, predictable, boring cliche! They should have stayed with the source material!”

Unfortunately, Etta’s fragile bubble of safety quickly burst, when someone else desired Stella’s company and called her name. The girl apologized and left and the silence she left behind was deafening.

Etta slowly sat back, a small smile she offered Stella still lingered on her lips as she looked around. She didn’t know any of the people around her and she suddenly felt awkward and intrusive just sitting there listening to their conversations, even though they seemed to be paying no attention to her.

As she leaned against the hot tub shell, she realized she was sitting next to a quite attractive, athletic guy.

And he was looking right at her! It immediately made her self-concious and even more nervous than before. Afraid she’d embarrass herself, she chose to stay still and queit.

But the boy noticed the quick glance she threw his way. He smiled confidently as he took his eyes off of her and then he spoke to her nonchalantly.

“Hey, nerd! Nice tits!”

Etta’s stomach jumped and all the blood in her body rushed to her cheeks as everyone in the jacuzzi laughed. She froze, unable to find an acceptable response to his remark and after a few mortifying seconds of absolute silence, she decided to leave. Fast.

Determined to find her sister, she roamed the garden, only to spot Tori dancing her butt off on a dance floor, while another girl cheered her on.

She didn’t want to ruin her big moment, so she headed for a bar, instead.

“One soda, please.”

Unfortunately, Carlie Fyres was hanging around there, too.

Carlie: “Soda? Are you kidding me? And I thought you couldn’t get any lamer.”

Etta: “Ehmm, I don’t… I don’t drink.”

Carlie sputtered and scowled angrily.

C: “Well, you do now! This is a party! One Monkey Wrench for my pathetic little cousin here, please.”

Etta didn’t like it, she didn’t like it one bit, but she knew Carlie. Last thing she needed was to fight with her and make a scene. And Carlie was notorious for causing the loudest, most dramatic scenes on any occassion.

She took the drink and sat on a sofa next to Carlie. She knew her cousin wouldn’t let go once she set her mind to something. They kinda had that in common.

‘That’s why we never got along that well, I guess.’

“What are you waiting for? Just drink it already! I swear to Watcher, sometimes it’s embarrassing to be related to you.”

Etta sighed and drank the stupid cocktail while Carlie watched – it wasn’t bad, but Etta didn’t like it. She was dissapointed and upset and hurt and just wanted to leave already.

As soon as she finished the drink, Carlie stood with a triumphant smile on her face.

C: “See? Was that so hard?”

And then, thankfully, she walked away. Etta didn’t understand what was Carlie’s problem – why would someone do such a thing? Her preference for non-alcoholic beverages was not interfering with Carlie’s drinking in any way.

‘Why does she even care what I’m doing?’

Confused and bothered, Etta had enough of the party. She decided to hide inside until Tori was ready to leave.

She walked into the house only to find herself right in the kitchen. And without even thinking about it, she decided to prepare something to eat. It was her favourite thing to do to pass the time and she had barely eaten that day.

Pancakes were half way ready when his voice interrupted her.

Dante: “Etta? What the… What are you doing?”

Dante was standing right there, looking confused but dashing in his tight shirt and curious smile on his lips.

“Oh, Dante! I’m so sorry! I… I didn’t want to… I just. I always cook when I’m upset. I guess I was in such a frenzy, I haven’t realized what I ‘m doing.”

“That’s fine. The thing is…nobody’s allowed to be upset at my party. What happened?”

“I’m not even sure – everything, lately. My dad got sick, my brothers are, like, totally out of their minds and then there’s you and… and this party! And all the people here, they’re … they are just so… I just can’t do anything right and…”

Etta stopped when she felt her breath shorten and tears building up in her eyes as emotions took over her. Maybe it was alcohol, maybe it was just too much for her, but she knew that if she spoke one more word about any of it, she’d totally lose it. And she was definitely not going to cry in front of him.

“Sorry. You don’t need to hear that.”

Dante had to have noticed the fragile tone in her voice because he let it go.

D: “And cooking helps?”

Etta shrugged and lightened up a bit.

E: “I know it’s weird. But it does. Food is simply so… unifying, you know. It’s an experience we all share. Because, well, we all have to eat, no matter who we are and that brings us together.”

“Ever had that feeling of perfect peace after a good meal? It’s like everything falls into place, your worries shrink and world is alright for a second. And making food, being the one who can give this to others… I don’t know. It calms me.”

Dante smiled and she returned the smile shyly, pretty sure she gushed too much and too enthusiastically.

E: “I’m ridiculous, right?

D: “Yeaah, well, now that you mention it….”

D: “I’m kidding. You’re inspiring.”

“I’m afraid you’re the only one who thinks that.”

“I’m afraid other people don’t know you that well, then.”

He took a step forward and reached for her, his eyes intense and gentle before he closed them and pressed his lips against hers.

Etta was sure she was dreaming. It wouldn’t be the first time – but this was so much better than those dreams. She could hardly believe it.

She took a deep breath and to avoid awkward silence, she grabbed the plate from the counter and smiled.

E: “So…pancakes?”

Chapter 15: Inappropriate

“I wanted to ask you, Etta. Would you go on a date with me?”

“Earth to Etta!!! Earth to Etta!!!”



Etta was lost for a second. She quickly picked up the toast from the ground and tossed it back into the pan, struggling to remember what was the conversation about before she totally zoned out.

“I was asking if you’re coming to Dante’s party tomorrow.”

Etta blushed when she heard his name. She had to try really hard to push her silly daydream out of her head.

“Dante’s throwing a party?”

“Didn’t he tell you? That’s weird. He said  a couple of days ago that he would invite you.”

Etta heartbeat accelarated. The thought of Dante thinking about her was strangely exciting. What made him change his mind about the invitation, though…
She shrugged, acting calm and unimpressed.

“Well, he didn’t, so…”

“But I’m inviting you right now! He won’t mind. Come on, we’ll have a good time!”

It was a nice image – she could spend several hours in his house, with him around. She could catch a glimpse of him every now and then. Maybe she could even get a chance to chat with him. A soft smile crossed her face at the thought.

“You know what? I’ll go! I’ve never been on a real party before.”

“Exactly. It’s about time for you to have some fun. You never do anything but study and work.”

“But my work is kinda fun – it’s got croissants and cookies! And school is interesting these days, the new chemistry assignement is…”

“I know! Just…don’t mention chemistry at the party tonight. Some kids there hate science lessons.”

“Did someone say party?”

Chris appeared in the kitchen, wearing his best suit and his favourite cologne.

C: “What kind of party are we talking about? How many people? When? Where? Will there be boys?”

“Welllll, maybe? I mean, it’s possible?”

“In that case, I want both of you to be home at eleven  or I’m calling the police! And no cigarettes or alcohol! But that goes without saying, right?”

E: “Of course, Daddy! We’ll behave ourselves. Promise!”

Chris and Melia were stricter about rules ever since Tori had to spend the night at uncle Evander’s place after Carlie left her alone in a night club. And their parents didn’t even know about the boy who followed her around. They would have never allowed them to leave the house again.

T: “Perfect, Etty! You sure know how to deal with parents, don’t you?”

Etta laughed, although she didn’t know what Tori was talking about. She meant every word she said.

But she quickly let it go. She was too busy making up scenarios about the party in her head. She couldn’t stop thinking about it for an entire day. She knew it was all just an utterly absurd, hopeless fantasy that was never going to happen for real, but still – it was a pleasant one. And even if she wanted it to stop, she didn’t know how. The feelings came on their own, so surely they must go away on their own, too.

She was still distracted after school, but luckily, Seth had some problems of his own, so he didn’t care about her absent-mindness.

S: “It’s so unfair, you know? I’m the best player in the chess club right now. Maybe even the best ever. I don’t know why I have to compete to get the title of the club captain.”

E: “Seth, if you’re really that great, you have nothing to worry about.”

S: “I’m not worried. But it seems abundant. Why should we waste precious time with another tournament when everyone’s already aware of my superiority.”

“Hmm, maybe not everyone sees it that way. They deserve to have a chance, too.”

S: “Ugh, why am I even talking to you about it. You know nothing about chess.”

S: “Whatever. I’m gonna grab some snack. You want something?!

Etta was about to ask for a tuna sandwich when the bathroom door slammed. It surprised them quite a bit since nobody was supposed to be home at the time Seth and Etta were the first ones to come home from school that day.

But before they could do anything about it, a figure walked into the dinning room.

Etta immediately recognized her. It was Michelle. And she was naked from neck down, with only a towel covering her hair. She seemed surprised.

“Oh, is this not a good time?”

Etta didn’t understand. And just like Seth, she was paralyzed by shock and embarrassment. Suddenly, another door opened and Amon walked in.

“Hey, babe. What’s up?”

He walked toward the girl and kissed her, completely ignoring the absurdity of the situation. When he was done, he asked her to wait for him in his room.

After Michelle  closed the door behind her, Seth finally regained his ability to speak.

“What the hell, Amon? Have you lost your mind? Stop bringing freaking hookers to our house, for plum’s sake!”

“Aww, Little Seth got to see real boobies for the first time. Amazing, isn’t it?”

“Those were definitely not real, you idiot. You crossed the line, Amon. Mom and Dad are gonna be so pissed about this.”

A: “Like I care. I know you’re just jealous because you’re a pathetic virgin who can’t even dream of getting a girl of his own.”

E: “Amon! Don’t be a jerk!”

S: “Oh, Watcher. Shut up, Etta. I don’t need your help, okay? I don’t need a stupid little girl like you to defend me!”

And suddenly, he was gone.

A: “Whoa. What’s his problem?”

E: “Amon! What’s wrong with you. That was inappropriate. And kinda embarrassing, too.”

A: “Oh, it’s okay. Michelle’s a model and she poses nude, too. She doesn’t mind.”

“But I do! And apparently, Seth does, too! What are you even doing with Michelle anyway. I thought she was Dante’s girlfriend.”

A: “Ha! Definitely not. Dante was just having fun. And now I’m having fun. We’re cool.”

“You share girls now? Unbelievable!  And do you realize how desperate you look when you rub your conquests into everyone’s face like this?”

Amon hesitated for a second, contemplating her words.

A: “Hey, cut me some slack here, will ya? This was your idea, Etta! You wanted me to have some class and bring the girls home! You thought the bush was not good enough, remember?”

“You women! I’m wrong when I don’t listen to you and even more wrong when I do!”

And just like that, he was gone, too.

Etta just sat there, baffled. She was pretty sure she never suggested their home as a good place for Amon’s affairs, but it didn’t matter anymore. It seemed that the more she tried the  the less she understood.

Her brothers were really strange creatures.

Chapter 14: Realization


The blonde girl behind Etta almost screamed. Billie was the sweetest co-worker she could ever wish for, but she could be a real oddball sometimes.

“Guess WHO just walked through the door! Dante freakin’ Lothario!”

Etta’s heart did a backflip at the mere sound of his name. She looked up without realizing what she was doing and it was true. Dante stood right there in the middle of the café.

She smiled instictively when she saw him, but then she noticed a particularly attractive girl next to him and quickly came to her senses. Trying to sound as indefferent as possible, she turned her attention back to dirty dishes.

E: “So what?”

Billie couldn’t believe her ears.

B: “So what?! He’s like… the hottest guy in school. Don’t act like you don’t have a crush on him. Everyone does. It’s human nature.”

Etta shrugged as she washed a hundredth mug that morning. Billie rolled her eyes at her lack of enthusiasm and went back to work. Mondays were always particularly busy and customers were quickly accumulating in front of the counter, forming a rowdy, nervous crowd.

Against her better judgement, Etta looked up and saw Dante standing at the end of the line. And he looked really good.

‘Damn it, Etta, get a grip or someone’s gonna notice just how plumming ridiculous you are.’

She managed to look away and decided to change filters in the coffee machine. It kept her focused for a while. At least until she overheard Billie taking Dante’s order. She tried to fight it but she couldn’t help herself. She looked up again, turning her head towards the sound of his voice.

He stood on the same spot as before, looking better than ever and Etta felt like her brain just melted.

‘Oh, my, he’s SO hot.’

‘How is he so hot?!’

‘Daaamn, I wish I was that coffee.’

Her wild train of thoughts was interrupted suddenly when the boy spoke.

D: “Etta? Hey, are you alright?”

He walked around the counter and sat on a bar stool there while Etta tried to contain the emotions she felt lately.

“Me? Good! I mean…ehm, never been better.”

D: “Well, okay then. It’s just that you looked a little distracted for a second.”

‘You have no idea,’ she thought to herself, her heart beating louder than a marching band. She was really glad the café was crowded and noisy that day.

E: “Oh, I’m just tired. Please, don’t tell my boss you saw that. He wants us to be all smiley and pretty and fresh in front of customers.”

D: “Well, you look fine to me. Listen, I wanted to ask you…”

Etta would love to stand there forever and watch how his perfect lips formed perfect sounds into the perfect words he spoke, but unfortunately, Mondays were truly extremely busy and they’ve just run out of cocoa.

E:  “I’m sorry, Dante, but I gotta go. This place is a mess today and we need a few things from the stock room. We’ll talk later, okay?”

Dante just smiled and nodded. Etta sighed as she watched him leave, unable to take her eyes off him.

‘Watcher, help me.’

B: “Hey! I saw that!”

Billie’s voice brought Etta back to earth. And back to work.

“Saw what?”

“Uhm, your face? When you talked to him? It was lit up like a freaking Christmas tree!”

“No, it wasn’t.”

B: “Etta, look, I’m not dumb. I can recognize a crush when I see one. But hello! You talked to Dante Lothario! Did he ask you out or something?”

E: “What? No! He’s Amon’s friend. He was just saying hello.”

B: “Well, better be careful. Dante’s not the type who would say hello to a girl without a very good reason. And that reason is usually in her pants.”

E: “Ew, Billie. Gross! I’m gonna get that cocoa.”

The blonde girl didn’t stop talking, but Etta quickly got away and hid in the stock room so she couldn’t hear her.

‘The worst thing is…Billie’s absolutely right.’

Dante was notorious ladies’ man. Girls were crazy about him and he was more than okay with it. Rumours had it that it ran in their family – his grandfather Don used to be quite a playboy, too.

Etta later caught a glimpse of that girl of his, Michelle. Billie told her she was a freshman in college and a lingerie model. She surely looked like one.

She looked like a kind of girl Dante would actually date. ‘Unlike me,’ Etta sighed.

B: “I guess one could call her his girlfriend. But, well… guys like Dante don’t really have girlfriends. Just… you know.”

Billie had a lot of information about the girl. She kept talking about Michelle and her botox and surgeries and extentions for the next hour. Etta couldn’t wait for the shift to end.

But it didn’t bring her any relief. On her way to school, she ran into Aleksey.

A: “Hey, Etta! Did you get my text?”

Etta’s heart sank. She suspected the text wasn’t from Dante, but while it was anonymous she could at least fantasize about it. Now that she knew who sent it, the magic was gone.

“Sure. I didn’t know it was from you, though. But thanks.”

A: “Well, now you know. Surprise! Heh. So, hm… I was wondering. Would you like to grab a coffee with me?”

Etta was like paralyzed. She didn’t know what to do. Aleksey was so great. And kinda cute, too. But she had feelings for somebody else.

‘For somebody who will never be interested in me,’ she thought bitterly.

E: “I don’t know, Aleksey. I work at a coffee shop, you know. I had enough coffee today. And every other day, too, I guess.”

And with an excuse about running late, she turned around and rushed down the street, leaving the dissapointed boy behind.

She felt really bad for turning him down like that, but she had to. It would be unfair to go out with him, given the circumstances.

Lost in thoughts, she bumped into someone at the end of the street.

She immediately started apologizing when she realized it was her brother Amon with a satisfied, cocky smile on his face. Expecting him to mock her or tease her by pinching her cheecks or do some other childlish thing, she instinctively flinched.

“Amon? What are you—?”

But then she noticed someone else – a girl crawling out of a bushes behind him  and her cheecks reddened in the sudden realization.

She didn’t really know why, but she snapped.

“Seriously, Amon? This is how you spend your time now? Have some decency, geez. And next time, spare me the shame and choose a bush that is not right next to my workplace, for plum’s sake!”

And with that she stormed off. She couldn’t put her finger on what exactly bothered her the most – Billie’s trash talk about Dante, Aleksey’s inability to read between the lines or Amon’s absolute lack of class. But she was sure of one thing.

‘Boys are such morons.’

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.’

Chapter 12: Just another Saturday

E: “Tori! So, how was it? Tell me everything!”

T: “Uhmmm. Fine. I guess.”

“Just FINE?! Windenburg is one of the most beautiful cities in the world! At least according to tourist websites. And uncle Evander. Calling it fine… that doesn’t sound quite right.”

T: “Sorry to disappoint you. I didn’t get to see much of it – Carlie didn’t want to take me. She said sightseeing is for idiots. Those few glimpses I caught from public transport were breathtaking, though. So you’re probably right.”

E: “What? You didn’t visit the Van Haunt estate with the maze? The Chess Square? The Old Town? Anything? But what did you do, then?”

“Well, we went to Carlie’s dad house. And brace yourself, because it was the most awkward experience of my life.”

“So, when we showed up, his wife, Moira, was nowhere to be seen. Carlie said she never met her – presumably because Moira can’t stand the thought of Carlie coming over. But Carlie’s dad was nice. He welcomed us warmly and took our bags inside.”

“His daughters, Morgan and Siobhan, are already  in college, but they came home for the weekend, so we met briefly. Morgan just rolled her eyes behind Carlie’s back and left.”

“But Siobhan was actually kinda sweet. And very polite. She invited us inside and offer some tea and fruits, smiling constantly.

So we sat down  in a dinning room and chatted.

Siobhan inquired about my hair, where did I have them done and stuff like that. Then, she playfully teased Carlie about her hair – something like she have it easy with her straight, silky red locks in comparison with our frizzy curls.”

“And Carlie lost it! Completely! She started yelling like crazy, claiming that nothing in her life is easy and calling Siobhan a judgmental prick.”

Unsurprisingly, the most uncomfortable silence followed. I could hear the clocks ticking. Nobody knew what to say, so they just stared at each other, half shocked, half furious. And I sat there, wishing for a meteor to fall on my head.”

‘Why did I agree to come here?’

E: “Oh, holy plumbob! That’s insane!”

T: “Right? Poor Carlie.”

E: “Oh, come on. Carlie was the agressor in that situation. Don’t feel sorry for her.”

T : “Well, I do. She is Dom’s daughter, just like Siobhan and Morgan, but still, Dom chose to live with them. He loves them and supports them and takes care of them. He’s there for them, every day. And Carlie? She gets one phone call from him on her birthday. Imagine if  Dad was like that to you.”

E: “Whoa, I… I’ve never thought about it that way. I guess you’re right. And what happened then?”

“Lucky for me, Carlie calmed down while we were getting ready for the party. In fact, she  completely forgot about the incident the minute she got dressed. It’s understandable, though – she looked like a freakin’ popstar. Honestly, I felt  underdressed next to her.”

“So we got to the party, she introduced me to her friends, we chatted a bit and then we danced and danced and danced – it was so dope!”

“The music! It was amazing, like totally freakin’ awesome, since it was like an ultimate show of the most relevant DJs of Winderburg. But other than that, it was just a dance party, you know?

So after a few hours, Carlie went to order some drinks. She has a fake ID for situations like that, so it went smoothly. In fact, it went so smoothly that she never came back.”

“Hey, there!”

“Long story short, she hanged out with the boy she met on a bar for the rest of the night. And Watcher knows where they were because I didn’t see either of them ever since.”

E: “She left you there? All alone?!

“No! I was with her friends, remember?”

“Although,  they were practically strangers to me. There was a couple, or at least I thought they were a couple until the boy started hitting on me. You know, usual stuff like dancing just a little too close and staring just a little too long. He also touched me a few times, you know, ‘accidentally’.”

“He even followed me around everytime I tried to slip away. I asked him to stop and he acted like he didn’t know what I was talking about. The more I insisted the angrier he got, so…”

“…so, I ended up hiding in the bathroom, trying to call Carlie, but she wasn’t answering. So I called uncle Evander and he was so nice and came to pick me up”

“He and his girlfriend Kaya were really good to me. They fed me  and let me sleep on their couch. Kaya even lended me her old T-shirt to sleep in. “

And in the morning, uncle Evander took me to the train station and well, here I am!”

E: “Thank Watcher! Next time I see Carlie, I’ll kill her! Seriously, what was she thinking? How could she left you like that! A young girl, alone! And in a bar full of drunk strangers… What if something had happened to you?”

T: “Don’t be silly, Etty. I’m okay. Besides, I can’t blame her, that boy was totally gorgeous.”

E: “Tori! Please. Don’t be like this. You can’t ignore all the evil in the world. “

T: “Carlie is not evil! She’s sad. And lonely. You’d know that, if you’d be willing to get to know her better.”

E: “Well, you have to admit, she’s making it quite difficult for people to want to know her.”

T: “Maybe. And maybe you’re just overreacting.”

E: “And maybe you’re just too good for your own good.”

T: “Whatever. Enough about that. What about your weekend? Did I miss anything interesting?”

“Not at all. Everything was as usual.

I did some homework with Seth, while Amon went out with that girl of his. Oh, and Aunt Devi started with her music lessons.”

“I think she enjoys it, unlike everyone else – Dante is a terrible musician at this point. But he’s aware of that and it’s quite funny.”

“Hello, Etta. I bet you can’t resist my angelic music, can you?”

“He didn’t stop joking about it even after his lesson was over and we were having lunch in the garden.”

“And then I found out I forgot to put my hands on the freakin’ piano keys.”

“And I got some work done on my science project. Aleksey came and helped me with some graphs, so it’s almost ready.”

“So yeah, like I said: just another ordinary Saturday.”

T: “Now would you look  at that! Two hotties are trying to win her over and she calls it an ordinary Saturday! Careful, you heartbreaker!”

“Geeez, you’re even worse than Aunt Devi. We’re friends, simple as that.”

“Okay. Sure.”

Chapter 11: One of a kind

One Saturday in the middle of November, Aunt Camilla came to visit. She hugged everyone cheerfully,  investigated her nieces about potential boyfriends like aunts do  and teased the boys with uncalled-for advice about always using protection. Then she rushed to the dinning room and spent the rest of the afternoon there, chatting  with her sisters over a cup of tea.

“This will be my last year in representation, I’m afraid. I feel like I can’t keep up with the new girls on our team – but I’m turning forty so it’s understandable.”

Carlie showed up, too, much to Tori’s delight.

T: “Carlie! Long time, no see, huh? How are you doin’? Are you still painting?”

C: “Oh, come on, Tori. Painting is for idiots that have no life.”

T: “Uhm, okay then. So what are you up to these days?”

C: “I’m glad you asked – that’s what I wanted to talk about! there’s this awesome party happening in Windenburg next week and I want you to come with me. My dad lives there, so we can stay at his place.”

T: “Sounds great! But I don’t know. I’m not old enough to attend a party like that and my parents…”

C: “Boohooo! Little baby is scared of her parents. Do they still change your diapers, too?”

T: “No, but…”

C: “Gee, what’s wrong with you? Don’t be such a stuck up moron. It’ll be the best night of your life. Dancing, boys, juice…everything. You’d be stupid not to come, seriously.”

T: “I didn’t say I’m not coming. I’ll go! Just calm down, please.”

Etta was on the way to her room, when she overheard the end of the conversation. She didn’t like it. But the worst part was just about to come. Because in that moment, Carlie opened the door and saw her standing there with a guilty face.

The heck? You were eavesdropping on us? How pathetic!”

“I guess I have to ask you to come, too. Lucky for you, I’m generous like that, so yeah… you can come with us to the party, Etta.”

“Thanks, Carlie, but I have work soon in the morning every day and I can’t skip it. And I have to study for my science project. me and my team are supposed to test different metal conductors to…” 

“Who cares. This is the annual Summer Soltice Dance Party of Windernburg. It’s the party of the year, you bimbo.”

E: “I’m not really into that, I’m afraid.”

C: “Oh, whatever. I didn’t want you to come anyway. You’d just spoil all the fun.”

E: “Then why did you ask me in the first place?”

C: “Because I’m nice like that, obviously. I should have known better. Next time, I won’t bother with a lame nerd like you. See ya!”

Confused and upset, Etta retreated to the safety of the room and tried to comfort herself with a book.

It worked a bit, but just when she was getting to the really thrilling, suspenseful part, Amon walked in and sat beside her. Etta could tell he just returned home from a date with Brylee – he still smelled like her perfume.

A: “Hey, Etta! You busy?”

“Uhmm, kind of, yes. Do you need something?”

Etta was cautious. She didn’t know what this was about, but it was suspicious to say the least. She couldn’t remember last time Amon came into the girls’ room. If ever.

A: “I was wondering if you could help me with my homework.”

E: “I could. But I’m not… I probably don’t know much about the topics you study, since your two classes above me and everything. You should ask Seth.”

A: “Yeah, Seth! You know how nice and helpful he is – I bet he would strangle me in my sleep if he could figure out how to do it without becoming a prime suspect.”

E: “You’re too hard on him, he’s not that bad… But I see your point. So what do you need?”

A: “So, I’m supposed to write this essay about a certain book –  The eyes were watching Watcher or something along that line – and…”

“You mean Their eyes were watching God? Oh, that’s a wonderful book, Amon! You’re lucky to be writing an essay about that one. I hope one day we’ll get the assignment, too!”

A: “Or! You could write it now, maybe? Just in case the curriculum changes in two years or something.”

E: “You mean like…write it for you?”

A: “Well, I didn’t say that. But it’s a good idea. So what do you say?”

E: “I don’t know. I think you should read it – it’ll do you no harm. Besides, it’s a wonderful book with powerful themes such as judgment, isolation and unconditional love…”

A: “It’s a book about a middle aged woman analyzing her marriages, Etta. It’s boring as plum and absolutely unreadable. Please.”

“Middle aged women are people, too, and it would really open your mind to see their point of view. Watcher knows you need that.”

E: “So. I’ll help you with the essay, but only after you read the book. I’ll answer any questions and discuss everything with you and…”

A: “Right. That’s what I thought – you’re just like Seth. Condescending and arrogant and convinced that you’re better than anyone else because youre so well-read and cultured.”

A: “Well, guess what. I’m not interested in your plum, so keep your lecturing for someone who cares.”

And with that, he left. Etta just sat there, stunned and perplexed.

‘What on earth has just happened?’

She couldn’t stop thinking about it for hours. It was still bothering her when Aleksey, her classmate, showed up to work on the physics project. She was so distressed that even Aleksey noticed it. He’s never seen her so unfocused.

A: “Hmm, Etta, are you okay?”

E: “Do you think I’m a bad person, Aleksey? We’re not friends, so you have nothing to lose. Just tell me.”

A: “What? NO! You’re a great person. You’re smart and kind and driven…

“…and just great! The greatest girl, I mean, classmate… yes, the greatest classmate I like. I mean have. The greatest classmate I have!”

E: “It’s just that… maybe I appear arrogant or pretentious to some people…”

A: “Don’t listen to those people. They’re just jealous because they wanna be like you and they can’t.”

A: “Because you’re one of a kind.”

Etta scanned the boy. She knew him from school, but not very well. Up to this point they only talked about homeworks. Suddenly, though, he felt like a friend to her. His expression was sincere and his smile warm. He looked like he meant it.

E: “Well, that’s…that’s nice of you to say. I mean, really nice. So, ehm… Thank you.”

Chapter 10: As it should be

“Last week, I met a friend who is interested in music and I told him you’re giving lessons. is that all right?”

“A friend, you say? Do I know him?”

“Just a boy from our school. He’s in Amon’s class. He used to come here as a little kid to play wh…”

“Ooooh! A boy friend, then! I’d be delighted to meet him.”

“Devi, don’t. Don’t be that nosy grown up everybody avoid, please.  You’re too cool for that.”

“Oh, come on, Etty, I’m your beloved aunt. Who else would you tell about these things. Your mom? Surely not.”

“But there’s nothing to tell. He’s just a friend, I only know him briefly. So…what should I say to him?”

“As I said – I’d be delighted to meet him. And to teach him, of course. I just hope he’s more talented than Amon.”

Amon asked aunt Devi for lessons once he found out girls loves musicians. He wasn’t particularly talented, but he didn’t care. He just wanted aunt Devi to teach him a few well-known, simple songs to impress ladies.

A: *sings terribly* “And after aaaaaall, you’re my wonder…”

Etta didn’t really understand why. Amon’s girlfriend, Brylee, seemed impressed enough to her. She came over daily, staring amorously at him, laughing and blushing everytime he talked to her.

“Why are we not in your room, Amon?”

“Because my stupid brother refused to leave. So unless you want to look at his ugly face whole day, we’ll have to stay out of there.”

“I see. Poor you, to have a brother like that.”

“But you know what? My parents are at work. And they’re not coming home for quite some time. Maybe we’d have more privacy in their room.”

“Sounds like a plan, handsome. Let’s go.”

Etta would probably find it disturbingly amusing, but she was too busy  to pay attention to such nonsense. She was much more interested in a dinner party  her mom organized to celebrate dad’s birthday.

And she couldn’t wait for mom to come from work so she could assist her in the kitchen.

“So, Etta, how are the potatoes?”

“Fine, I guess?”

“Yeah, they look great. You knwo what’s  next: simmer until tender and then remove them from water. Then…”

Etta: “…add milk, mash the mixture and cook until heated, constantly stirring. Then add cheese and cook until it melts. And then stir in heavy cream, bacon and seasoning. I know, mom!”

M: “That’s my girl. Keep going!”

While Etta was busy with salads and side dishes, Melia prepared the rest of the feast.

Who needs apron when you have talent?

And what a feast it was! Even those teenage grumps Amon and Seth left their rooms to join the family and the guests. All those dainty dishes just couldn’t be resisted. They’ve got everything – fabulous soufflé to kick off the meal in style,  sensational, melt-in-the-mouth lamb cotlets or festive herbed salmon as mains and plethora of side dishes and fresh salads.

“Mmmm, smells like heaven!”

Etta even used her newly acquired mixology skills and prepared some simple cocktails. Needless to say, everyone was impressed.

“I wonder if  there’s a difference between lemon juice and citrus juice…”

With their bellies full and tastebuds satisfied, people warmed up. They smiled and laughed and joked.

T: “And then he said: ‘Bring my brown pants!’ Hahaha.”

The conversations were flowing and everyone was being  incredibly nice. Even Seth. It was such a change. Such a marvelous change.

Etta noticed the difference and she couldn’t believe it. The food brought them together. It was like people were happier, like the physical food made them ready to nourish their souls, too. And what’s a better way to do that than being attentive and kind to one another?

E: “This is so amazing.”

That wonderful, sincere ambience lingered around the place long after the food was gone. The young danced and surprised everyone with their moves, the adults talked. Etta couldn’t remember the last time they spend so many hours together as a family, but  she wished for evenings like this to happen more often.

Who knew Seth could dance like this?

The fun continued long into the night. The sun was already rising from behind the horizon when Melia brought the  birthday cake. Guests were already gone, but Chris didn’t mind. The important people were there.

“It’s good to have you here with me, kids. So good. Everything is as it should be.”

And with that on his mind and cheering of his children all around, he spinned into elderhood.

C: “So, darling? How do you like the new me?”

M: “You mean the old you, right?”

Chris frowned at her, acting all upset and offended, but before he could say something, Melia’s mischievous face went away and she smiled at him in that gentle, loving way that made his heart melt every time.

“Honestly, I love it just as much as the previous version.”

Chapter 9: Long day

Everything was suddenly so exciting.

Etta woke up early. So early that it was still dark outside. On a normal day, she would probably feel all sleepy and sluggish at that ungodly hour, but today was not a normal day.

“It’s my first day at work!”

Etta sneaked out of the room quietly and rushed to the bathroom. She tried her best to make herself look put together  – although she had some doubts if such a thing could be done at 4:30 a.m.

“There’s no time for make up today, I guess.”

Then, she put on her uniform. It was not pretty, but in her eyes it was the best freaking piece of clothing she’d ever wear. It made her feel so significant, so useful.

“Deep breaths, Etta. It’s gonna be fine.”


Panic was taking over her as she stared at her reflection like that. She suddenly realized how unprepared she was, so she quickly turned around and left, ignoring the doubts in her head.

When she came back, others were already up, frowning sleepily at their food. Etta changed into something without an apron and joined Tori in the kitchen.

E: “Nice day, isn’t it?”

Tori: “Huh?”

Etta knew she’d get plenty of opportunities to talk to her sister during the day, once she’d adjust to daylight. She barely had enough time to finish the breakfast anyway.

School was busy, though. Etta needed breaks to proofread her essay about the long-term effects of vitamin supplements one last time. Meanwhile Tori struggled to finish hers, because she found gossips about the affair of her French teacher much more captivating than eating disorders she was supposed to write about.

Tori: “School is so tiring!”

Back home, everyone felt a bit worn out from all that studying. While her siblings decided to relax by watching TV and playing computer games, Etta went to the library. It was a perfect place for her to unwind. She also intended to find some books about brewing techniques. Or at least some that would help her distinguish between a latte, a café au lait and  a flat white, because, seriously, that plum was confusing.

She’s just spotted a book that looked promising – The Atlas of Coffee – when she heard  weirdly familiar voice.

“Hey, Etta!”

It was Dante, the little boy in Yoda costume. Except he wasn’t little anymore. And he wasn’t in Yoda costume, either.

E: “Hello, Dante! So nice to see you. What are you here for?”

“I’m looking for a book that would help me with reading sheet music. I’ve got a guitar for birthday and I want to, you know, teach myself… To play it.”

D: “But it’s harder than I originally thought and I could use some… guidance.”

E: “Oh. My aunt could help, she’s a musician. And she gives lessons. You should definitely stop by, if you’re interested.”

D: “Really?”

E:” Well, if you prefer to learn it from the books, it’s okay. I just thought that lessons would be more effective. But I’m no expert.”

“No, no. It’s a wonderful idea. But are you sure your aunt would be willing to do to it?”

E: “I’m 100% positive. Aunt Devi is a sweetheart. But I’ll talk to her and let you know, if you’re scared.”

D: “I’m not but… Thanks.”

She just smiled at him knowingly and resumed reading her coffee atlas, while he continued his efforts with decoding musical notes with a puzzled expression on his face. It was a nice afternoon.

When she returned from the library, it was homework time. At least for her and Seth, since Amon went to the gym and Tori was out with her friends.

E: “Hmm, Seth? Why did you left out exercise number four?”

S: “I haven’t figured it out yet.”

E: “It’s easy, though. You just have to divide it by four before you add these  numbers.”

S: “Oh, I see. I must have been thinking about something else.”

E: “Call it as you want, you’ve just been outsmarted by a freshman, big bro! Oh, yeah.”

Seth slowly turned around and looked at her. Then he stood up and move across the little space between him and the bed Etta was sitting on. He sat next to her and sighed.

S: “You didn’t outsmart me. You can’t. Everybody knows men are more intelligent than women and that’s a fact.”

S: “What? Seriously?”

Etta didn’t know what to say. Seth was always a little weird, but this was low even for him. She just looked at him in disbelief and left.

To comfort herself, she decided to try her hand at cooking. She went for the simplest recipe she could think of – scrambled eggs.

It wasn’t as easy as she expected.

E: “Stir until the consistency is right. Hmm. That’s not very specific.”

She tried her best, though. She watched mom cooks it a thousand times, after all. Surely she must have learned something from it.

E: “Am I doing it right?”

Or not?

E: “But how much exactly is a pinch of salt?”

But in the end, it turned out great. Even better than that.

Even Melia was impressed.

M: “What happened in my kitchen, for Watcher’s sake? Who is responsible for this MESS?”

“Oh, nevermind. It smells amazing.”

Luckily, the foodie side of Melia always wins.

The rest of the family was surprised to have eggs for dinner, but they didn’t complain.

“Mmmm, Etta, these were… Eggcellent!”

D: “Quite possibly the best scrambled eggs I’ve ever tasted. No offense, Mel.”

M: “None taken. Apparently, my little girl has a gift.”

The cooking success lifted Etta spirits a bit. The compliments made her forget Seth’s rude comments. But maybe she was just too tired to care. It was a long day.

E: “Oh, bed. We finally meet.”

And tomorrow would be no different.

Chapter 8: New Phase

“But Dad! I can’t start working now! I’ve just made it to the football team. I need to train.”


“Okay, okay. Calm down. It was just an idea.”

Chris backed off. It was a smart excuse. And maybe it wasn’t excuse at all. Amon was actually visiting the gym. Regularly. Chris thought it was a good habit for a teenager.

Amon thought so, too. And so did the girls. And Amon was not losing any time. He asked the loveliest one on a date.

A: “My parents are pretty chill, but they just can’t understand that I don’t want to live like them.”

A: “Working twelve hours a day, for average pay, come home only to eat and sleep. And to start with that madness while I’m still studying, ugh!”

“I know, right? Mine are exactly the same. They can’t see how this approach won’t teach me to be responsible – it’ll only teach me how to be a slave!”

Amon: “Exactly! It’s good to know someone who share my opinion. Even better if that someone is a beautiful girl like you.”

“Oh, that’s sweet, thank you! You’re quite handsome yourself, if you must know.”

Few blushes and flaterred smiles later, the girl was completely smitten.

A: “I had such a nice time with you, Brylee. But… I feel something’s missing.”

B: “Oh? Is it… is it something I said? I though the date was going perfectly…”

“There. Now it’s going perfectly.”

Seth was a complete opposite of his brother. He didn’t care about girls and he openly despised sports. He loved R.E.F.U.G.E, though. And teh forums. And everything related to his computer.

“Ha! Take that, noob!”

And he refused to find a part-time job, because there were no job opening in his field. Chris was getting desperate.

Chris: “It’s hopeless. They knew we were coming and they prepared for us. I mean, Seth told me he can’t get a job because he needs to focus on the advanced courses in information sciences he takes this year. How can I argue with that?”

“I know, love. Let them be. As long as they are doing something useful, I don’t mind what it is. Although I fear that ‘information sciences’ is just another name for watching Youtube podcasts.”

C: “We shouldn’t be forcing them, that’s for sure. It would only lead to hatred towards work – and Watcher knows they’ll have enough of that later in life.”

“Chris, my love. If you dislike the company that much, you should just quit.”

“I don’t know, Mel. The money is good.”

M: “I know. But that’s the thing – I could help with the money. Our boys are basically grown-up by now and girls don’t need me around that much, either. I think it’s time for me to go back to work.”

C: “That… that would be amazing, Mel, but… Are you sure? What about the garden?”

“Well, let’s just say I can’t grow anymore in that department. Pun intended.”

Hello, Gus-Gus.

Cowplant was a sufficient argument for Chris, so they agreed. Melia’s maternity leave was finally over. She’s got a job at a small Italian restaurant in the neighborhood and she was about to work as a caterer, which was far from ideal but better than a dishwasher position.

She was a little bit nervous to start working again and she wanted to train a bit before her first day in the restaurant. And what’s a better way to train your catering skills than become a caterer for a day?

Luckily, she had two anxious birthday girls at home, who were in need of a great birthday party.

T: “Etty! Happy birthday! Aren’t I a good sister to remember?”

E: “You sure are. The best sister I have! Happy birthday to you, too!”

And since last party was such a success with all the goofy costumes, they decided to do it again.

Clowns and hotdogs were once again absolute hit among the guests.

The more clowns, the merrier.

But maids, pizza boys and Grim Reaper could also be found.

Devi: “I think this costume is rather scary, considering my role in this household…”

And the mysterious green boys came, too, much to Etta’s delight.

“You do know that frogs don’t have ears, right?”

“I’m not a frog, you silly little princess. I’m Master Yoda.”

He then proceeded to tell her all about the Republic and the Empire and about dozen of other things that were not making any sense to her. He had a lot to talk about. By the time he was done, it was already time.

What time, you ask? Well, everyone’s favourite time: time for cake!

Both girls were more than ready to enter the new, exciting phase of their lives. They learned to always expect positive outcomes. And in their minds, birthday parties could only lead to good things, anyway.

Chris: “Don’t forget to make the right wish, cupcakes!”

Maybe even to the best things. At least for those who dare to dream big and move forward. Because fortune always favors the brave.

“Say cheddar, Etty!”