Content Warning: this chapter has descriptions of violence as well as visible injuries. The language gets rather vulgar as well (not that that’s news).
Enzo loved Lorenzo’s house. It was much smaller than his own, chiefly made of wood and with lots of greenery around it. He had been coming there since he was a child, though the time he had been allowed to spend there was limited.
His father didn’t care for the Sartore family and that was probably because they were very strange people. They smiled a lot—too much, said many of their friends—and they laughed sometimes inappropriately often. Still, Enzo couldn’t quite find it in him to feel the same kind of disdain for them that the rest of his circles did.
Ms. Sartore doted on all of Lorenzo’s friends and though Enzo had been shocked the first few times she hugged him goodbye, he had come to like her and Lorenzo had become a fixture in his life no matter how little his father liked it. It was one of very few points of disobedience, apart from his nightly outings.
There was nobody but Lorenzo he could imagine talking to about finding his mother, even though his best friend didn’t seem fond of the idea.
“Are you sure you want to do it?” he kept asking as they walked through the garden, discussing what Enzo had planned.
“You’ve just already gotten yourself in a lot of trouble, man.”
“If I succeed, she’ll come back and then I’m sure I can take any punishment. It’ll be the last time I ever do anything like this.”
They stopped on a mossy, rocky garden path that was still damp after yesterday’s rain. The sky had turned a startling blue, as if it wanted to encourage his plans. It was more than could be said for his friend.
“I don’t know,” Lorenzo said, “I still feel bad about the car thing.”
“That wasn’t your fault, it was my idea.”
“Yes, but we both—”
“Please, I just need to borrow a little bit of money for transportation. I’m not doing anything illegal this time. I’m trying to set things right.”
“I’ll lend you the money sure, but… shouldn’t you leave it to your dad?”
Lorenzo rubbed his neck and Enzo sighed. He refused to understand that it was Enzo who had made his mother leave. No matter how many times he tried to explain, he kept saying that it was probably not all there was to it.
“It has to be me,” Enzo said.
“If you’re sure… okay.”
Enzo, in a rare moment of sentimentality, hugged his friend. “I owe you one.”
“Don’t think about it. That’s what friends are for.”
“His parents are leaving, right?” asked Carlotta, who was pressed up against the wall while Gina crouched on the ground and kept watch.
A big, expensive car reversed out of the driveway and Gina nodded.
“You were right.”
How did you know? Gina thought, but she pushed the question down for another time. She suspected she would never really know how the other girl was so knowledgeable. They had worked on the plan for a couple of days. Carlotta gathered information and everything she had found was spot on. Honestly, she reminded Gina of her dad’s righthand man, Franco, who also magically knew everything.
“I’m going to call Doriano and ask if he wants to see me,” Gina said. “Then if he says yes I head in and if he says no, I can disable the alarm and pick the lock.”
“And then you let me in,” Carlotta said.
Gina called Doriano and made sure to sound as disgustingly into him as before. It was the hardest act she had ever pulled. She hated talking about how much she missed him, how much she wanted him, and she hated how pleased he sounded with himself. She would never understand how she missed the smug, self-satisfied purr he used when he talked to her. Thankfully, he was convinced she was under his spell, so it wasn’t hard to convince him to let her visit even though she could hear the strain in her own voice.
When she hung up, her hands were shaking with rage. It would be good to tear into him. She stood up and felt Carlotta’s hand on her shoulder.
“You just need to get us in, then you’ll never have to be nice to him again.”
Gina nodded and her eyes met Carlotta’s in the half dark. Like she had in the previous days, she felt a kinship with Carlotta that surprised her. The two of them couldn’t be more different and yet here they were—scheming together like it was all they had ever done.
“All right,” Gina said. “Let’s do it.”
With Lorenzo’s money tucked safely into his pocket, Enzo snuck out that evening. It was much colder now than when he had last been sneaking out of the house. In the summer, it had been warm enough that he had worn only thin shirts, but autumn had truly rolled in.
He had considered dressing properly in a suit—it would show his mother that he was good and maybe make his arguments more convincing—but he couldn’t stand his stiff formal clothes for a long train ride. Besides, he would only draw excess attention, walking around her neighbourhood in his finest clothes. He wasn’t even sure he could find her. All he had was the mason’s address and he had to hope that she lived with him. Enzo could see a bitter sort of irony in the fact that the mason lived near Monte Vista, but he didn’t allow himself to think of Gina right now.
He unlocked the front door and paused for a second when a fierce wind hit him and nearly tore the door handle out of his grasp. It was cold, much colder than he had expected. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get to his coat without causing a stir, so he just had to weather it. He closed the door after himself and walked as silently as he could, down the steps in front of the house.
He felt a small spark of confidence. He’d snuck out in the summer plenty of times and never gotten caught, so why would this be any different? On top of everything, he had a good reason to sneak out this time. He was doing something good.
He took another few steps and he was on the gravel pathway leading away from the house. On the way, he checked the address and train times on his phone and his confidence grew. This would happen. This would work.
Then, the door to the house swung open.
Enzo stupidly flung himself into a crouch and crept up against the foundation. If it were only Lia or one of the staff…
“Vincente, come back inside.”
As if called by a supernatural force, Enzo stood and did as he was told. His father, as usual, never raised his voice. In fact, he was entirely silent apart from his order and there wasn’t the slightest hint of anger on his face. He walked Enzo to his study, a room that he didn’t normally want his children entering.
The elder Vincente Cavalcante sat down. His face was turned away, as if he couldn’t bear to look at his son after catching him out yet again.
“Explain,” he said calmly.
Enzo’s mouth was too dry. “I—that is—”
“Explain why you were trying to sneak out. I thought we agreed that you weren’t going to see the girl again.”
“I wasn’t seeing her,” Enzo said. “I was… it was mother.”
His father looked up, a rare lightning flashing in his eyes. “Did she contact you?”
“No. I was going to go look for her, so I can explain—”
“She doesn’t want to see you.”
Enzo’s heart stung. “I-I know, but if I can only explain what happened and that it was only my fault, I think I can get her to come back. Nobody else should be punished for what I’ve done.”
“It’s not Lia’s fault that I’m ill-behaved,” said Enzo with a determination and stubbornness that surprised himself. He had never talked to his father like this. “And it’s not yours. I’m sure that if I can only explain myself to mother, she would understand. At least she could come back for Lia’s sake. She doesn’t have to have anything to do with me but—”
“You mother doesn’t want to see you.”
For the first time in Enzo’s life, his father raised his voice. Not much, only a little above what was considered polite. There was an undercurrent of anger in his tone, so far from the cold, matter-of-fact way he usually spoke.
“You mother doesn’t want to see your sister or me or any of our acquaintances and friends. This isn’t just a matter of apologising and making up. She left, Vincente, and she left because of the mess you created when you saw that girl.”
His father stood up and walked around the desk, making Enzo involuntarily take a step back.
“Do you know what she said to me before she left?” When Enzo shook his head, he pressed on: “She told me that she couldn’t bear the humiliation anymore. The humiliation that you caused.”
The ground underneath Enzo’s feet seemed to spin and he felt nauseous.
“W-we can…” He sank. “It’s been a while now and if we could make her understand…”
“Your mother doesn’t want to understand!”
Enzo started and drew back at his father’s outburst. He wasn’t done, either. His face was pale and his eyes bulged with anger as he continued talking:
“Everything I’ve ever done was in the service of my family. I’ve clothed and fed and raised you all and the only rewards I’ve reaped are disobedient children, a divorce, and a stained reputation within our circles. The past weeks since Georgette left, I’ve worked daily to try and keep together what’s left and you’re going to jeopardise all that on the off-chance that the insane woman comes back.”
“Her parents, my own parents, all my relations—everyone told me not to marry her. She was too wild, they told me, she wouldn’t make a suitable wife. But I did it anyway and look what I got to show for it.”
He threw his hands at Enzo, at the useless son who had yet again disobeyed him.
Enzo’s entire body was stiff as a board and he hadn’t been able to take his eyes away from his father’s while he was speaking. Now, however, his father’s shoulders slumped and he said:
“Vincente, we are better off without your mother and brother, just as you are better off without the girl. It may not seem like it. It may seem like you can’t live—” his voice broke. “It’s better for everyone. Put them out of your mind, Vincente, and take care of your sister. Help me mend what’s left of this godforsaken family. Can you do that?”
Enzo was dead still for a long time, then he finally nodded. “Yes father.”
“Carlotta, how good of you to come,” said Gina in as low a voice as she could.
She had told Doriano that she was going to ‘powder her nose’ and instead she had tip-toed downstairs to unlock the door for Carlotta.
“Took you long enough,” said the blonde, stepping over the threshold.
“Doriano was like a fucking dog humping my leg, so I had to shake him off. How the hell was I ever into that guy?”
“He’s good at what he does. Now then, ready for the next part?”
Gina cracked her knuckles and smiled. She had looked forward to this. “I am.”
“What took you so long?” Doriano asked, unintentionally mirroring Carlotta’s statement.
Gina heaved a mental sigh of relief that he wasn’t waiting for her naked in there—he had pulled that a few times while they had been together and at the time she had liked it. Now, she was sure she would have vomited at the sight. She walked up to him and ran a hand over his chest, making an effort not to grimace at the close contact.
“I had to look good for you, you know,” she said.
If he could hear that she wasn’t into him anymore, he didn’t say anything. For someone who spent all his time emotionally manipulating people, he was an idiot. He leaned in to kiss her, but Gina stopped him with a finger to his mouth.
“Patience,” she said with a soft chuckle. “I have a surprise for you. Close your eyes.”
He rolled his eyes. “Do we have to do that, Regina? Just tell me what it is.”
“Eyes,” she said. “Shut them.”
“Okay, fine.” He closed his eyes. “If it’s what I’m hoping, it’ll be worth it.”
“Oh, it’ll be worth it.”
Gina took a deep breath and punched him, hard, right between the eyes.
Doriano was so surprised, he went down like a brick, straight on his ass. His eyes flew open, at first wide with surprise, but then he glared.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“Surprise, asshole,” she said. “I know about your fucking scrapbook.”
A little trickle of blood made its way out of his nose and he wiped it off. She could see his mind working overtime to figure out how she could know, then a light went off in his eyes.
“My phone. You looked through my phone, you little b—”
His words were cut off when Gina gave him a hard kick to the stomach. Then another.
“I did. I know everything.”
Doriano’s eyes were watering from the beating he had gotten and now he blinked them away, trying to get to his feet. Gina gave him another swift kick to keep him down and stepped onto his throat.
“I know you fucked me because you assholes had a bet,” she sneered. “You found out I was dumped and you took the chance to win it. What did you get?”
He stayed defiantly silent.
“Go on, you piece of shit. Say it.”
“You liked it,” he replied. “Don’t pretend you didn’t. They all like it. Amanda, Carlotta, that little Flora your brother’s into. They all want it.”
It had never been part of the plan for Gina to do anything but keep Doriano incapacitated while Carlotta found the book, but now it was like her body moved of its own volition. She threw herself on Doriano, sending a hard punch at his face. He made a valiant effort to get her off, but Gina knew exactly where to hit to make it hurt the most. She hit him again and again and again, to the soundtrack of his pained groans and the rush of blood in her ears.
She wouldn’t have stopped. Not if it wasn’t for Carlotta who grabbed her arm and held her back.
“I think he’s incapacitated now, Regina,” she said.
Gina didn’t let go of Doriano’s collar right away, not until Carlotta put a hand on her wrist and pried her hand off. The rush of adrenaline left Gina’s body slowly, leaving only a dull, throbbing ache in her hand and something indeterminate in her chest. She wanted to cry, but not here, not while Doriano was watching and not in front of Carlotta.
Instead, she wrangled her victim onto his stomach.
“What’s she doing her—?” He asked as his eyes fell on Carlotta. But Gina cut his question off by twisting his arm up hard so he screamed in pain.
“Shut up,” said Gina, “and tell us where your scrapbook is.”
Doriano closed his mouth to a tight line, but Carlotta laughed.
“I don’t need him to tell,” she said.
Gina held Doriano in place and watched Carlotta. Without a moment’s hesitation, the blonde walked up to his dresser, rummaged a little around in the top drawer, and withdrew a notebook. It had stains on the cover and little snippets of paper stuck out from the different pages.
“I think he usually keeps it under his pillow for easy access,” Carlotta explained when Gina shot her a questioning look. “When you said you were going to come over, he hid it quickly. Can’t have you see it.”
Damn, she’s good, Gina thought and then: I wouldn’t want to piss her off.
Under her, she felt Doriano do a little jerk in an attempt to get up, but she gave his arm a hard tug and he had to give it up.
“When my dad hears about this…” he said through gritted teeth.
“Then what?” Carlotta asked before Gina had a chance to say anything. “He’ll call the police? I think you already know who Regina’s dad is. Besides, I don’t think you want to tell your macho-man dad that you were beaten by a girl. You’re not going to tell him. You’ll tell him you fell down the stairs.”
Doriano glared up at Carlotta.
“Not a chance. I think it’s safe to let him go.”
Gina hesitated, but Carlotta nodded and once she let go, Doriano stayed on the floor, touching his face and moaning in pain. Before leaving, Gina gave him one last kick to the side.
“For old time’s sake,” she explained.
The girls looked over the book all night. Doriano had schematics and diary entries about the girls in school, not to mention the List, which turned out to be a list of names. Every girl was prioritised and he had noted what he and his friends got whenever they managed to sleep with a ‘highly fuckable’ girl. Gina was near the top of the list and had netted him a high reward: A six-pack.
Along with it all, he had written down the weakness for every girl he wanted to get with and organised them by difficulty. It was both childish and nearly… sociopathic, in a way.
When they made it to Carlotta’s weakness, Gina paused and looked up at the other girl.
“Yup, my dad’s an alcoholic,” replied the blonde with a bitter smile. “I thought I hid it so well.”
“Wait, so you and Doriano did—”
Carlotta shook her head. “No, I didn’t sleep with him. Not for lack of trying on his part, though. He ‘coincidentally’ turned up one evening when I was going to pick dad up from the bar and he tried to help me. He held me up so long my dad tried to walk home alone. It was in the dead of winter and if I hadn’t gotten away from the idiot and found him, he would have died from hypothermia. After that, I decided to get revenge.”
“I’m sorry, Carlotta,” Gina said. “Hey, at least you got him.”
“You can just call me Lotta, and I’d say we both got him.”
Gina rubbed her hand that was still aching and would no doubt bruise. It was worth it.
“We did. It was pretty cool, how you just found the book with those weird skills. You could be in the gang.”
To her surprise, Lotta looked at her and said, sincerely: “Is that a job offer?”
“Uh, I guess.” Gina rubbed her neck. “I didn’t think you’d want to do that kind of stuff.”
“I had fun and it’ll be even more fun to distribute the asshole’s book to everyone.”
“Well, unless you change your mind, I’m sure you’re welcome with the Good Guys.”
Lotta smiled and brought her attention back to the book. Gina leafed through it and came to the part she had dreaded: Another list. The one with all the successes. Her own name was written in bold and he had underlined the word ‘HOT’ with black ink. Lotta reached over and closed it.
“Maybe we should take a break.”
Gina nodded. “Yeah, thanks. You’re… pretty cool. I thought you were boring.”
“And I thought you were an idiot.”
Both girls laughed and for at least that evening, they put the book out of their minds. It still stung. It would sting years later still. Even when Doriano moved because of their handiwork, his shadow hung over her head as a constant reminder that at any moment, anyone might try to take advantage.
But at the very least, from that day on, she and Lotta were inseparable.
Author’s note: Hi guys! I hope you enjoyed the last of the flashback chapters. In two weeks, we return to the present day for part four of the story. I know – four parts, and this story is maybe just over halfway done. In case you’re curious, I’ve written over 50,000 words and I may well add another 20-30,000 to that. Hope you guys aren’t already scared by the prospect. I swear, I used to be less wordy than this.
Well then, I think that’s all from me. I might not be reading updates or answering comments right away today. So then, I hope everyone’s having a grand old time and I’ll see you all in the next post.