Pushing off from the wall, she wandered back into the main lobby. She returned to the spot where she had left her family and Kenji, who was soon to be family, anyway. They had been joined by the Callistos while she was talking to Chris.

But Dante was not there.

"Here's our shining star," said Demi Callisto, smiling warmly at her and holding her arms out. "You were so amazing, Em! You took my air away, child."

Beside her, Linh hid a little laugh as her daughter was crushed in the woman's embrace. Tuan stared at Mrs. Callisto in confusion, but his sister stepped on his foot before he could open his mouth and smoothly steered the adults into a conversation about the finer points of the concert once Demi put Em down.

"That was amazing, Em!" Eleni piped up admiringly from atop Diego's broad shoulders.

"Believe her," Diego said, rolling his eyes. "I spent most of the concert trying to keep her from falling off her seat."

Lucia chuckled and put an arm around Pietro, who was red and seemed to find the floor as fascinating as Em had earlier found the ceiling. "I drew the lucky straw," she whispered to Em.

"You pick siblings?"

"No. They pick us." Lucia paused. "Actually, that doesn't make sense." She laughed. "Sorry."

"Well, thank you all for coming. I really appreciate it."

Pietro mumbled, "Thank you, Em. For inviting us, I mean." He was really red. Was his sweater really that thick? If he was feeling the temperature oppressive then he ought not to wear it. "You were fantastic!"

"I'm glad you enjoyed the concert."

"Are you kidding? He was almost as bad as Elle, especially when you came onstage," Lucia remarked, and received a sock in the side for her pains. "Ow. Oh, hey, Chris."

Although he took care to stay clear of his father, Chris seemed to have recovered completely now. In fact, there was a glint in his eyes that belied his excitement as he greeted the rest of the Callistos. "All set?"

Diego chuckled. "If time slows down."

"I'm so excited!" Eleni gleefully hugged his head. It was a wonder she didn't smother him. "Dante'd better show up or--"

Diego's hands clamped over her mouth. In one motion, the Callistos and Chris shot a look at Em and then proceeded to pretend quite nonchalantly that they hadn't. Yeah. Something was definitely up.

And Dante hadn't watched her performance. He wasn't here at all.

"Not here, is he?" she found herself asking, and she hated the slight tremor in her voice.

"So Em, when's the next concert?" Diego asked too brightly. "I'd like to know when not to make any more baby-sitting gambles with Lu."

"You gamble on baby-sitting," Chris said incredulously, almost as if he hadn't just spent most of the evening chatting with Tuan Phuong.

"You wouldn't understand," Lucia waved a dismissive hand. "You're a Single Child. You couldn't know what it's like. If we can't pawn off the kids on other people, we have to foist the worse ones off on each other."

Eleni beamed. "I'm the worst one," she whispered proudly to Chris.

He nodded slowly. "And that's...just completely normal."

Em stood there listening in silence and drawing on all of her strength to maintain an even expression. She wasn't disappointed that he hadn't shown up at all. She wasn't. Why would she be? She had just executed a fantastic performance, every note on the beat, and there was no reason for her to feel anything less than triumphant. It wasn't like she had played her violin for him--

But that was a lie she had been feeding herself. She wanted him to see her play, to see her be more alive than she'd ever be beyond the stage. Whenever she held her violin and bow with notes flowing in her head and hands, the mask she kept over her face would always be swept away. This time, the music had taken her with more force than it ever had, and she knew why. She knew exactly why.

But tonight, she played for no one, after all.

And that was all, really. No big deal. Why she should feel like the earth had stopped spinning and inertia had hurled her into space? She didn't feel anything. She didn't.

Oh, God, she did.

But damned if she ever let it show. Em forced herself to speak. "You're the one to talk, Chris," she remarked lightly. "Turning toasters into weapons of mass destruction isn't exactly what normal people do on a regular basis."

"I don't like mosquitos!" he defended himself, but he seemed relieved to hear her. How did they think she'd react?

"Uh-huh. Chris," she said. "A word, please."

She didn't miss the threatening glare Lucia threw his way or the rough hand Diego clapped on his shoulder. The uneasy set of her future stepbrother's face failed to escape her as well, but she wouldn't be deterred by trivial things like his continued good health. Em led Chris to the far side of the group, out of hearing range. She turned and crossed her arms, regarding him with an incisive look. Chris met her gaze for a few moments, but soon started fidgeting when she continued to stay silent.

He finally cracked. "You know, words are usually communicated verbally. I can read lips, but not eyes. Just a hint."

Em made sure that her gaze was expressive enough to convey how unpleasant she was ready to be if he decided not to cooperate. She knew how to break him down, and promptly fixed him with the look she knew would crack him in two.

Chris held out for a grand total of five minutes, which admittedly was the longest he'd ever manage to withstand the Look. She had to hand him that.

"All right, I'll cave," he burst out, raising his hands over his face. "Just stop looking at me with those penetrating, judgmental snake eyes!"

"Very considerate of you," she remarked. "And not girly at all." When he still remained hidden behind his hands, she rolled her penetrating, judgmental snake eyes. "Relax. They're sheathed."

He sheepishly lowered his hands. "Because, you know, they're not at all scary."

"Right. And you managed not to soil yourself."

"I didn't."

"Didn't say you did." He just looked ready to, that was all. "Now hurry up before I glare at you again." She saw him throw an uneasy glance over her head. "Listen, Chris. I know that Diego's probably motioning to you behind my back that he'd snap your spine in half." She gave him a sweet smile. It promised him varying degrees of pain, but was sweet, nonetheless.

"...But right now I can reach you a lot faster than he can. Tell me what's going on."

Trapped, he slumped his shoulders. "Fine. I'm not worried about Diego," his voice lowered to a nervous whisper, "but it's Lucia you have to promise to protect me from."

Em stifled a laugh. "Promise."

"Well," he scratched at the back of his neck. "It was probably very easy to tell that something was up. The Callistos aren't exactly the most subtle people I know. The plan was that after your performance, Dante would--"

Unfortunately, that tantalizing teaser was all she was to hear of the Callistos grand master plan because something chose that precise moment to careen into her, bawling. "Em! There you are!"

"L-Laurel?" For indeed, it was the cherry-haired violinist, clamped around the small girl.

"I'm sorry, Em!" Laurel wailed. She stepped back, still holding her at arm's length. Laurel's face was streaked with tears and her hair, once neatly tied back, was a mess. The transformation from the impeccable musician to this distraught disaster--not to mention the fact that Laurel was talking to her again--was too unexpected to ignore.

"What happened to you?"

Laurel's lip actually quivered, and her eyes welled up. "Even though I've been so horrible to you all this time, you're still so nice." She jumped the unfortunate girl again. "I'm so sorry!"

"Well, you two look like you've got a bit to chat about! I believe I'll excuse myself now," Chris exclaimed brightly and dashed off.

Chagrined that not only was she incapable of freeing herself, but that Chris had also managed to elude answering her completely, she made a strangled noise.

Laurel sprang back, gasping, "I'm so sorry! I always forget how tiny you are."

Would that Em could forget, too, but people usually seemed all too keen to remind her.

"So," Em sighed, moving her bruised shoulders and wincing. "You know everything now." It was logical to assume that Brian, growing unable to stand the way Laurel treated her, must have finally decided to come clean with her. Very noble of him, but all the good intentions in the world could not possibly make up for his singularly appalling timing.

Laurel bit her lip. "Em, I've been so unreasonably nasty to you. I don't know how you could forgive me."

"Well, I do."

Laurel's head snapped back up. "Really?"

"Yeah. Don't worry about it." Besides, she had to sink her claws back into Chris before he could reconstruct his willpower--or hide behind Lucia. "Where's Brian?"

The bleak expression of antipathy Em had grown familiar with over the past few months returned in full force to Laurel's face. "I don't care," she seethed.

This was interesting. "Oh?" The other day, they were practically inseparable.

"He lied to me, Em. He let you take the blame and let me believe that it was all your fault."

Em could almost picture her hissing and spitting. An angry Laurel was really nothing more than a ruffled kitten, but then again kittens aren't capable of holding abnormally long grudges. Once you fed them, they'd warm right up to you again, but that probably wouldn't work on Laurel.

Although Em hadn't ever thought to try it. Maybe Brian should.

Exhaling--this all seemed very familiar--she told Laurel, "I agree wholeheartedly with you if you call him a hopeless idiot--and one with really objectionable timing, too--but he's not a bad guy, Laurel. Don't stay angry at him long." Because she knew who they'd run to with all their complaints, and she did not look forward to having her ears filled with whiny noises.

Behind her, Em saw Linh waving for her to follow them outside. "I have to go, Laurel. Think about what I said, all right?"

Laurel surprised her with another affectionate hug. "Sorry again. I'll make it up to you, I promise!"

"Er, no need." As much as Em was fond of her, Laurel Wrightly was a basket case. Having Laurel beholden to her was a notion only slightly less terrifying than herself being in Laurel's debt. "See you around." And thus Em made good her escape.

"Ready to go?" Linh asked her when she reached them. "We're just waiting for the cars to be brought around."

Em cast a look around for Chris; predictably, he was nowhere to be found. He was probably with Kenji and Alejandro Callisto, getting the car. Demi Callisto was cheerfully chatting with a pair of strangers who looked startled to be approached by the gregarious woman. Tuan was regaling the younger Callistos with stories of his life--judging by his wild gestures, he was telling them the one with the supposed run-in with Mexican bandits. While Diego and Lucia appeared to be listening with skepticism, Pietro and Eleni were enchanted.

"Em." Linh was watching a Flutist struggle to get into her car. The girl was so burdened with bouquets that it was nearly impossible for her to do it on her own. "I'm sorry I didn't bring you flowers tonight."

Em gave her arm a reassuring pat. "Nice not to feel like a pack mule."

"Maybe, but you deserve every single petal." A smile lightened her face. "Tonight, though, will more than make up for it, I think."


"I see Kenji. Behind all the traffic, that is. If that girl takes any longer to get into her car, I think I'm going to just go shove her in it," Linh then remarked as Em stifled a laugh.

Fortunately for the beleaguered Flutist, it didn't take long for the cars to drive up. The Callistos all piled into theirs, while Linh and Tuan made their way toward Kenji's. When she made to follow them, Lucia suddenly swooped down on her and pulled her in the opposite direction.

"You're riding with us," she declared, overriding Em's objections.


Linh smiled apologetically. "Have fun dear."


"Stop being such a baby," Lucia grumbled.

She wasn't dragging the defenseless girl towards the Callistos' car but towards another one. Through its windshield, however, she saw Chris wink at her saucily. Em was suddenly very pissed.

She allowed Lucia to drag her inside the car, but as Lucia went around to enter the passenger seat, Em said, quite pleasantly, "Chris. If whatever you guys are planning to do to me turns sour, you will wish with every fiber of your shriveled black soul that my mother won't marry Kenji. Having to share a house with you will be very convenient if I ever decide to devote the rest of my life to making merry hell on the rest of yours."

He cleared his throat. "Impending violence duly noted. Now sit back and buckle up."

The ride didn't take long. Em, however, wished it did because the alternative was infinitely worse. Once the car stopped in front of a house--which, incidentally, wasn't Em's--the doors flung open, and Em found herself being handed out of the car by a very gallant Phillip.

"Hello, Em!" Mona crowed as Giselle waved cheerfully behind her. "Took you long enough."

"Oh, don't complain," Lucia said from her seat. "She's here, you're ready, and that's all that matters."

"Ready?" For some reason, Em felt very trapped. "For what?"

"Shouldn't it be a tad obvious by now?" Seth wondered.

"Em's had a long day," Chris reasoned out. "Of course she'd be a little thick."

"Gee, thanks."

"Well, the day's not over yet," Mona quipped. "Come along, then, Em. Tick tock. We have an hour to put a spell on this pumpkin. Can't wear that tonight."

Em refused to budge. "What's going on?" she asked flatly. "Shouldn't you guys be at prom?"

Although they were both still made up, they weren't even wearing the prom dresses or suits they had stressed over for days. In fact, it looked like they were dressed to go partying, which, she supposed, was somewhat understandable; proms were parties, underneath all the tulle and tuxedos.

"Officially, it's still going on, but everyone knows prom's over," Giselle answered.

That loosened up some of the tension that was gnawing at Em's innards. On the ride over, she'd had an inkling that something like this would happen, and there were nauseating images of Mona and Giselle tossing her into harrowing concoctions in chiffon and petticoats. But if prom was over, then there was nothing to worry about.

"So I can go home now?" She tried to sound as indifferent as possible, but some of her borderline desperation might've shone through.

In the passenger seat, Lucia laughed. Hands on her hips, Mona smirked and said the words Em would forever associate with Nazi concentration camps and last-minute Christmas shopping.

"Prom after-party."

"Oh God, make it stop."


Em studied her reflection with some misery. This would be the last time she saw her face for quite a while.

"Are you done?" Giselle asked impatiently, tapping her little tube of lipstick against her hand. Rather like it was a riding crop, Em thought gloomily.

"I'd really just like to go sleep," she told her.

"You can, for a while," Giselle suggested. "Can't have you screaming at everything I do. It'll help if you close your eyes."

A dentist once told Em that. It didn't help.

Em submitted with a long suffering sigh and winced as Giselle began to transform her face.

"Don't worry, it's just going to be very light," Giselle told her. "Your complexion is nice enough as it is, but we just need to enhance your eyes a bit. They're lovely, though rather small."

Em said nothing, focused as she was willing her consciousness far away. Maybe in her kitchen, eating some of her special spring rolls. However, as the tiny brush began to poke at her eyes, she found it impossible to imagine anything except the eyeliner popping out an eyeball. Hers.

Closing her eyes was a bad idea. "Where's Mona?" She'd have thought that her friend would have been there to suffer with her.

"Taking care of a few things," was the unsatisfying reply. "Now turn your face."

"With Seth, I suppose," she grumbled.

"They are prom dates."

"Who's yours? Phillip, right?"

The eyeliner suddenly dove into her eye, and Em jerked back, resisting the urge to howl in pain. "Giselle."

"Damn it! Sorry, sorry!" she gasped, snatching up a tissue to blot away the tears. "I'll take care of that. It's just that--well, how did you know?"

Was it a secret? Rather cantankerously, Em replied, "You told us, remember?"

"Oh. Right, I did."

"You like him, don't you?" She quickly ducked her head, lest Giselle stab her again.

The attack never came. She peeked out from under her hair to see Giselle staring at her hands. "Is it obvious?" Giselle shook her head. "Of course it must be." She leaned against the wall. "God. This has been such a horrible night."

Em raised an eyebrow at that. Hers was a horrible night. Right. "Thought you said that Phillip would be fun to take out."

"He is," Giselle answered. "I had a blast hanging out with him the whole night, but I couldn't stop wondering..." she trailed off. She seemed really uncomfortable. "Well, I couldn't stop wondering if he would rather spend the evening with Chris."

"...Say what?"

"Well, maybe not Chris," Giselle amended. "He looks too much like a girl for Chaussier to like him, I suppose. Any guy."

What Giselle seemed to be saying seemed so ridiculous that it was a while before Em managed to gather her thoughts into a coherent sentence.

"Giselle," she began hesitantly, dreading the answer. "Are you telling me you think Phillip prefers...that he's--"


Huh. "That's the word." Well this was an interesting development. Em, of course, knew that he wasn't. She knew for a fact that Phillip was quite besotted with Giselle, but apparently, he hadn't made his feelings known to the lady in question. "What makes you so sure?" she asked carefully.

"Isn't it obvious? Every word he speaks, every action he makes screams it, Em."

"I thought he was just being French."

With a nonchalant shrug, the taller girl continued to apply makeup to her charge's face. "There's no use in trying to cover it up, Em. You don't have to lie for him." Em saw a flash of emotion cross Giselle's beautiful face in the mirror. "I just wish that he wasn't so charming. You know how he loves to flatter outrageously and spout bad poetry. The way he talks to me, it's far too easy to believe that he likes me as much as I like him. It hurts sometimes, to know that he doesn't mean anything behind his pretty words. But as much as I know how he'll never want me back, I still love to hear them." She fell silent, her large brown eyes liquid and distant.

Shifting uncomfortably in her seat, Em was unaccountably relieved to hear Giselle's wistful monologue come to an end. It seemed to her that this was something far too private for her ears.

"It could be," she volunteered cautiously, "that you're wrong and he isn't gay."

With a start, Giselle came back to herself. "Em! I'm so sorry I unloaded all of that on you." She rubbed her forehead. "You're always quiet and unflappable, it's just so easy to confide in you, for some reason."

Unflappable. Huh. Then it ought to be as easy to listen. "Phillip isn't gay. He likes you, Giselle."

Giselle waved a dismissive hand and picked up the lipstick. "That's what he says, but I know better. Now close your mouth, unless you want an old rose grin." She began to wield her lipstick, forcing Em to duck back into her happy place to keep low until the danger had passed. Once it was safe enough to emerge, she found the uncomfortable coating of color on her lips made speaking difficult which, she suspected, Giselle had planned.

"All done," the girl declared, leaning back to admire her handiwork. "I have done what I could and now it's time for you to go get dressed. Mona's waiting down the hall three doors. I'll catch up after I retouch my own makeup." She saw Em's steady gaze on her and seemed embarrassed. "You don't have to worry about me. I'll get over him eventually. Just," here, she hesitated. "Please don't tell anyone--especially him."


"Please, Em. I feel ridiculous enough as it is. Promise me you won't say a word of this to anyone."

With dismay, Em then discovered that she wasn't the only person who had eyes that could bend people to her will. Giselle's gaze was a lot less chilling than Em's own stare of power, but that didn't make it any less potent. With this tool at her hand and her own weapons of intellect, it was no wonder that Giselle had quickly risen to the top of the school social hierarchy.

"Fine." So this was what Chris felt like. Em resolved to stop using it so much on him; it left one with a terrible feeling of vulnerability that she didn't like at all.

Em was still struggling with the foreign feeling of ocular defeat as she entered the room Mona was waiting in. Phillip was there as well. They looked up as she came in.

Phillip let out a whistle. "I knew ce cher Giselle was a wizard with the eyeliner, but mon dieu, you look beautiful! A vision! She has outdone herself!" He paused. "Of course, you were always beautiful, so I suppose it stands to reason."

She had to concede to Giselle's statement of Phillip's tendency towards outrageous flattery. Tonight he seemed to be more flamboyant than usual. There was a bright sparkle in his eyes and an irrepressible smile on his lips. Even his hair seemed to stand taller than it usually did.

"You're in top form tonight."

"It's a phenomenal night," he declared cheerfully. "Of course I should be! The goddess has willingly consented to distinguish her unworthy servant with the privilege of her esteemed company."

Although his words were flowery to an embarrassing excess, Em could see that they couldn't cover up his genuine delight. Sometimes she believed that Phillip spilled out his eloquent speeches on purpose to conceal his true feelings, but tonight, he really meant it. It seemed that while Giselle was suffering her doubts about Phillip's dubious sexuality, he had been enjoying the night to the fullest.

"In fact," he continued grandly, "I do believe that I ought to go and pay my divinity her due respects. I don't like to be away from her long."

Brows rising, Em advised against it, but Phillip floated out anyway, trailing sparkles and light.

"What's wrong with it?" Mona inquired. "They're dates, after all. And oddly enough, they've been getting along spectacularly. I think Giselle's finally getting used to him."

Em knew differently, but there was the matter of a pair of unnerving brown eyes to be wary of.

"Anyway," she said heavily, trudging to the dressing room, "let's get this over with."

As Em was changing into the admittedly lovely dress Giselle and Mona had procured for her--a slim shift-like number that was surprisingly nice to the touch-Mona suddenly spoke up. "Em, there's something I have to tell you."

Em froze in the act of struggling into the dress. No more! yelped a voice in her head. No more secrets! But this was Mona, the first friend she had ever made. And what problems could she have, anyway? After all, she had her happy ending, if the way she and Seth were sickeningly sweet together was any proof.

Might as well. "What is it?"

"I know that you don't want to hear it," Mona said in a small voice. "I've laid so many of my problems on your shoulders, Em, and you're a fantastic friend for putting up with me, but really, you're the only one I can ever talk to. There's just something about the way you're always so calm--so self-possessed--it's almost therapeutic, even if you don't say anything."

All right. She remained silent.

"I wish you were there, Em," came Mona's pensive reply. "I can't be rightly sure whether I'm imagining all of this in my head or it really all did happen. Tonight, he seemed so distant, especially after Inverno's performance."

Slightly incredulous--partly because she couldn't believe that Mona could think that Seth losing interest in her, when seeing the two of them together was positively cloying, and partly because she couldn't believe that people were telling her their problems again. They were perfectly capable of dealing with their own private miseries by themselves--for the most part, at least--so why did they always feel the need to come running to her with them?

"He's tired. Ever thought about what goes into a stage performance? If a violin performance tires me out, I'd hate to join a rock band. Trust me, Mona," Stepping from the dressing room, she glared at her friend, hands on hips. "The boy's crazy about you."

Mona, fingering the design on the curtains, began to make sigh, but it abruptly died on her lips when she saw Em. "Blimey, Em!" she exclaimed with pleasure. "I had my doubts when Giselle chose that, I want to see how it looks when you move."

Flatly, "No."

The door opened and Giselle came in, trailing Chris, Seth, and a starry-eyed Phillip.

"Perfect!" Giselle declared after casting a critical eye over her victim. "Let's go."

Phillip was even more delighted than Giselle. "Look at you, you delicate slip of a thing! You're always so deadpan--who'd have thought you could ever resemble a little porcelain doll?" As he began to wax poetic, Em could see why Giselle had her doubts about him.

Seth smiled at Em. "Nice dress," he offered in two brief words, which was a relief after Phillip's oratory, and turned to Mona with an even warmer smile. "Shall we?"

Mona slowly raised her eyes to his, and there was a bright blush on her cheeks as she returned his smile and took his hand. Em was relieved--one less problem to deal with, just as long as they didn't mess it up somehow, although her optimism in that respect was beginning to dwindle.

But she didn't have time to worry about that. They were herding her out the door and down the driveway.

"Hold on," she objected, stumbling over her feet. The shoes Mona had given to her to wear were beautiful on her feet and made them look graceful and delicate--but damn if they weren't hell to walk on.

With a smile Em found suspicious, Chris appeared at her side and offered his arm. "Let me help you out."

She glared at him and took it. "I tell you now," she murmured pleasantly into his ear. "If your little scheme of yours fails miserably, you'd better hope these wretched shoes twist my ankles into knots, because I will hunt you down and hurt you."

Chris smiled dazzlingly at her. "You look fantastic tonight," he replied confidently. "It won't fail." Ignoring her attempts to make him explain, he opened the car door and stepped aside to let her in. "In you go." He gave her a little push and she dropped into the passenger seat.

"What would that have anything to do with it?" she asked, her doubts beginning to solidify. He shut the door. "Chris!" But he walked out of her line of sight. Fuming, Em sat back in her seat, waiting for him to get in the driver's seat so she could roast him alive properly. She glared through the window, thoughts simmering in annoyance. Shoving her into the car like that. Ass.

The seconds ticked by, and her mood grew worse as each one dropped into minutes. What was taking him so long?

That's it. She reached out for the door handle.

Something moved in the corner of her eye, and she turned.

Wryly, Dante remarked, "I was wondering how much longer I was going to have to sit here."

With an arm propped up against the car window and another resting idly on the driver's wheel, Dante was obviously quite at his leisure. There was a smile on her face that unnerved her--made her heart pound a little faster, but it seemed to her that he was up to some mischief tonight. She wondered how long he'd been watching her stew.

Why was he here?

"You could have said something, you know. What's going on?" She was beginning to understand--once he showed up, it was all rather obvious, really--but she wanted to hear it from his own lips. Hear what he thought about it himself.

"That's true," he agreed and turned on the engine. "I could have. But I didn't mind the wait. Even though you're sulking like a little brat--"

"Hey," she objected. "And don't change the subject." She'd had enough of that tonight, and she wouldn't be deterred.

Dante continued, "--Even though you're sulking like a little brat," he grinned. "You're really pretty tonight, you know. I like looking at you."

He always knew how to shut her up.


I don't know how long it's been since the last update—to tell the truth, I don't think I want to. I'm feeling guilty enough. Things have been pretty hellish over here in real life. I'm not going to extrapolate on that—heaven knows I whine enough about it on my LJ when I'm not fangirling over one pretty boy or another. Where is my life going? -.-v Good thing writing takes all these troubles away, even though the quality of said writing isn't quite up to scratch. The reason why I'm scared away from this story all the time is because it's so long—I've been writing other short stories. I've got tons of work done with other stories, which is disappointing because I wanted to finish this first. They're not done yet, though, because God forbid I ever finish a story.

I'll do my best with this one, though. I will finish this. One day. Soon, I hope. I want to post my other stories, and I'm tired of having it hanging over my head like a fat baker with a powdery rolling pin. I need sleep.

To whoever's still reading this, thank you. I love you all, and I apologize from the bottom of my scurvy heart for making you wait. I hope this chapter didn't disappoint you. It was actually supposed to be part of the previous one—one huge, painful chapter—but FP wouldn't let me upload the monster, so here it is.

Cbprice25 : Aww, thanks to you, my ego's all inflated and I'm now unbearable. XD Yay for tangents and random digressions! I ought to try doing that writing technique you mentioned. Certainly would be more productive than downloading TV shows. I guess when dealing with writer's block, you just have to take things step by step, instead of barging in with guns blazing and all that. And LMAO XD at the loathing. Yeah, I reserve lots of loathing for the way this story's turning out so slowly, but I flove the characters so much I'm probably going to pull this yoke of misery back on and rewrite the whole damn thing. XD I'll look up those French films you mentioned, coz I'm becoming a foreign movie geek (but I'm not Canadian so I won't get it -.-v). I'm going on a Japanese movie kick right now (well, movies and dramas ehehe. I'm addicted). And thanks for sticking to the story:D I'll keep writing till the end!!

Fen: -is poked- It works! (Granted, after like, a month. XD)

Gwyn Baranof :O There are more Dantes out there? Where? (And living in Italy—what's it like? I love it there, but we usually just visit for a week. -.-) You have no idea how relieved I am that I'm not mangling up the Italian language. I'd love to put more in, but I'm usually afraid that people will set me on fire for it. Much safer to stay in English—which actually isn't my native tongue, but meh. Whatever. I know what you mean about the 27-chapters-and-still-at-the-beginning, though. I'll work on that, promise. :D Things will start moving.

Mailai : I'm alive! XD Hope you're not too disappointed with Dante showing up at the very end. I say late Dante is better than no Dante at all. (And I'm really glad you like him. I don't know if people do. --) There's a fluffy scene in the making, so I'll work harder to deliver it as soon (and as well) as possible. :D

Rocky : Um, the thing with me is that I'm not too particular about setting. I just decided that it was a place where lots of people from different countries live. Imagine it wherever you like. :D Some people suggested Australia.

Rumor Mills : Nice to meet you! I like surprises like these. :D Em's quite different from the beginning, isn't she? I hope the changes weren't done too hastily. I worry about that sometimes. And yeah, Dante's got something up his sleeve.

Thoughts of Wisdom : ;; sorry for making you wait. I really feel like bird fecal matter for it. About the descriptions—I always wonder whether I use a word too much, too. It's part of the reason why it takes me so long to churn out a chapter. I always agonize about the phrasing. XD Yup, I used to play the violin, but I realized eventually that I had no talent for it. Most of that "quickened the blood" bit comes from when I play the piano or listen to Liszt. -fangirls over him-

A huge, tooty-grinned thank-you-I-love-you to rosieroo, justsooinlovewithstories, fallinghard, naru, and KamikazeAce. I can't apologize and thank you enough. XD