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Marissa Jauntsen

Interim Ep. 3: The Ends of Autumn

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With her composure having returned Marissa was faced with an 'I don't recall saying that moment'.  After a few texts with Devin she was face palming as the vague recollection of her words whispered back through her mind.

"Well, shit." She chastised herself as she tapped out a reply to Autumn.  Apparently she agreed to be her friend, or something... it was a blur.  Ah, well.  At any rate she didn't have much else going on this weekend and the Fellowship was least likely on her list of people to hang with... Autumn though... yes.  It was perfect.  She could bounce her ideas off Autumn before the Nerd Herd indoctrinated her into a life time of unnecessary carbs, sugar and abstinence.

She sent her invite to the redhead, complete with emojis and an assortment of overboard punctuation (wasn't that how normal people communicated?)  She set about cleaning the house and making sure her company didn't notice that thier father was never home, their mother was never around, the hot blonde down the road practically lived with them and her brother was a complete slob...

This was going to be so much fun...

//Yeah!  Love to have you!  Come by whenever, I'll be here.//

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Her faded bicycle looked utterly out of place on the edge of the beautifully manicured lawn, and before she even made it to the door, Autumn could swear she heard the faint sound of whirring gears and gyros as automated defense systems prepared to eliminate the peasant who dared approach the manor. At least, that's what it reminded her of: some grand, lordly estate way out in the middle of Nowhere, Montana. The two-story ranch-style home was huge, with a tall fence enclosing what she could only assume was probably a golf course, tennis court, and personal air strip in the back yard, and the timers on the dazzling array of outdoor lights kicked on just as she was wondering if she was supposed to tip the butler when he answered the door. 

It was later than she'd meant to arrive; only the faintest glow of daylight still lingered on the horizon, and the path lights delineating the boundaries of the front walk created pale half-moons on the bright white concrete. She hadn't really planned on being out after the trip to Helena with Sean and Sara, and she did feel a little twinge of guilt about spending time with the others, when the twins hadn't been there- they'd been involved in all of whatever-this-was longer than she had, and it just felt wrong somehow. Especially since Marissa had, uh... said they were friends.The redhead rubbed her palms on her denim-clad thighs and tentatively pushed the doorbell. 

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Within seconds the door swung open and Marissa stood there with an annoyed look on her face.  Then again, she always looked annoyed, so it was hard to tell of it was her 'hello face' or her 'you're late face'.  She was in a pair of solid color maroon leggings and a pull over hoodie of their high school's team, the Coyotes.  She was wearing make up, with her trademark maroon lips and even while 'bumming around the house', the girl made low fashion look expensive.

"You're late," she said flatly and with that telltale tone of superiority.

Autumn knew it was later than she intended, but felt she had a solid defense.  Still, the girl was intimidating.  "But... you said 'whenever'.  I got caught up in a few-"

"Whatever," she rolled her eyes.  "Come in.  Welcome to Casa Del Dysfunctional."  She stood aside and waved Autumn in.

The inside of the home was as amazing as the outside, with a log interior and was about as rustic and 'Montana' as a ranch home could get.  The living room was cozy with a working fireplace and all manner of trophies on the walls and skins on display, even a bear on floor in front of the fire.  The kitchen was as modern as one could expect, with tons of room and an island in the center for prepping food and one of those fridges that when it lit up you could see through the doors and it ordered groceries.  From the kitchen was the dining room that led out to a massive back deck that looked down over the huge pool.  On railing was a faded sign that read 'No diving into the pool, Devin.' underneath the writing in parenthesis was a handwritten note that read (We're serious.  Stop it.  You're going to get hurt.)

Marissa noticed her reading the sign and smirking and rested her chin not far of Autumn's shoulder, startling her slightly.  "Yeah, he's an idiot.  Can't be left unsupervised."  She walked off to the kitchen.  "I was going to order pizza, you okay with that?  You're not like, vegan or whatever, right?  I'm just curious, i never paid much attention to you, aside from knowing all the hippie stuff you do like hiking, and... hiking."

"Is Devin here?" Autumn asked.

"No.  When left on his own he is a torrential storm of anarchy and constant frustration for other... so I turn him loose whenever possible.  Besides, we're twins, we need a break from each other sometimes.  He's not been home all weekend, now that he's learned what he can do, he's seeing the world.  And, I wouldn't try floating that boat, honey.  He's kinda got a thing for Lona, they're 'talking'."  She air quoted.  "Alexa!"

"Yes, Queen Bitch?  How might I be of service in your domain?"  Alexa's voice answered from the base on the kitchen counter.

Marissa smirked at Autumn.  "What?  You can program her to say all kinds of things, might as well have fun with it, right?  Order pizza, please.  My usual."  It didn't escape Autumn's notice that she didn't wait for a confirmation of Autumn's dietary habits.  "Hope you like pepperoni."

"Your pizza is being ordered."  Replied the house's internet service/servant.

"C'mon, I'll show mine and my brother's domain.  Our parents generally keep to the upstairs, we hang in the basement, our rooms are on the second floor but we can do all this hair stuff down there, it has a full bath."

Marissa led her downstairs into the basement and it was the of a house in and of itself.  Huge living room, massive television, xbox, ps4, a kitchenette and two more bedrooms with a full bath.  One wall of the basement was a massive patio door underneath the deck on the first floor that led out to the pool that was massive and obviously very expensive.  Beyond the pool she could see the workout equipment and gymnastics set up out in the yard.

"Alexa, lights.  Pool's heated if you want to borrow a suit, unless you brought your own."  The basement lit up as the sun strained to keep the their side of the world lit.  "So, do you want to just jump right into this, or are we supposed to bond or something?  I'm sorta new to this whole 'friends' thing."

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Although she'd always had a vague notion that Marissa Jauntsen's personality was an actual force of nature, the kind of thing nervous people bought insurance against or hoped to appease with offerings at candlelit altars, Autumn hadn't really ever seen it from such a short distance- and it had certainly never been directed at her. Even these casual interactions reminded the redhead of the vast gulf that separated the two socially. She didn't really blame the other girl for not paying attention to her; they didn't exactly travel in the same circles, and they didn't even share a tax bracket, much less hobbies or extracurricular activities. Still not entirely sure what she was doing in the Bitch Queen's lair in the first place, she admitted with a shrug and something that would've been a smile under less awkward circumstances, "Yeah, me too, I guess." She allowed herself a moment to process the brunette's verbal agility, piecing together the way she quickly maneuvered from one subject to another to maintain control. She kept moving, forced the people she was dealing with to readjust and recalculate the direction of the conversation, ensuring they stayed off balance- a fact that Autumn could appreciate, even if it wasn't a social skill she herself possessed. Part of her had expected Marissa to lounge around like royalty while her every whim was fulfilled by terrified servants, but this was a sis who handled her own business.

"Oh, and also, your brother is obviously hot, but totally not my type, and I don't wanna float any boats. Tea is that he's docked his dinghy in way too many ports, anyway." Was that right? Capsized his canoe in too many channels, maybe? She shrugged again, more dismissively this time as she flexed her fingers in her jeans pockets. "Not that there's anything wrong with that- I'm not slut-shaming, don't get me wrong. If he's low-key into Lona, or she's into him, cool." Her clear, pale eyes were almost blue under the basement lights as they came up at Marissa's verbal command, and she exhaled. Marissa was a lot on her own, and Autumn had to admit she was glad Devin wasn't around. She didn't think she was up to dealing with the two of them together just yet. "Let's, maybe, just start with the hair, if that's cool with you."

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"Fine with me," she shrugged.  Marissa pulled out one of the chairs near the four person table by the patio door and patted the back rest.  "Sit.  Wait.  I shall return.  And take everything out of your hair.  Bobby pins, scrunchies, berets... you know the drill."

Autumn sat down while Marissa disappeared down the hallway into the bathroom.  She could hear a ruckus, like her throwing items in a basket, or tote.  A part of her swore that if Marissa came out with a kaboodle she was going to cut her losses and run for her life.  She looked around as she took the scrunchie from her hair that held her hair back and out of her eyes.  These two really did have everything.  Tons of video games, movies, their own fridge, probably filled, a small dining area, even a small kitchenette with a island to separate the dining area from the food prep.  Spoiled didn't even begin to describe this level of personal wealth and freedom.  These two lived like kids you'd only see on television...

"Okay,"  she came back out carrying a small tote of products and styling gear.  Autumn was already dreading this.  What if this was just a prank like in all those teen dramas where the mean girl was only pretending to be her friend?  Marissa stepped up behind her and began with brushing her hair.  She surprisingly gentle.  "Wow.  Just, wow."

"I know, okay?  You've already told me how bad it is.  I get it."  Autumn huffed with a bit more attitude than she intended.  Only afterward did she realize she was being rude in Marissa's house, to Marissa... which she was pretty sure made her a legend, a dead woman, and possibly a martyr all at once.  She relaxed and let out a breath.  "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to sound-"

"-bitchy?"  Shelly's fashionista finished her sentence.  "Chill.  It's okay.  We're friends, right?  Friends get bitch privileges."

"Really?"  Autumn chuckled, a bit relieved.  "Still though, it's not me.  I wasn't trying to be snippy."

"Autumn, it's fine.  Really."  Mari kept brushing her red hair.  "We're all under a lot of stress.  A day doesn't go by I don't nearly bite my brother's head off.  Honestly, I was going to say your hair is actually gorgeous.  I know I give people a lot of shit, but your hair isn't really that bad... I wish you'd take better care of it, but we're going to fix that tonight."

It was like a punch to the face.  Marissa Jauntsen was being... nice.  And since when did Marissa ever say 'chill'?  There was easily maybe three or five more minutes of brushing in awkward silence.  The nervousness hadn't quite passed, but there was an awkwardness that hung in the air that said 'what do you talk to this girl about?'.  She could feel her hair already feeling different, unable to remember the last time she'd brushed it for longer than two minutes, let alone the seven or so Marissa was going on.  She was like a pro a this, and she really seemed into it.

"Girl, look,"  Marissa finally said in a flat, monotone voice as all her attention seemed focused on Autumn's brilliant red hair.  "You're gonna have to work with me here.  Talk.  Tell me something, ask me something, whatever.  I know it's awkward, I mean, really, have you met my brother?  King of awkward situations.  I assure you, you can't offend me or catch me off guard, but it is mandatory that if you're in the chair, you have to talk.  Floor is yours, speak your mind, get into my business... whatever.  You have cart blanche to open that mouth of yours, like spin the bottle without the bottle, or the dares.  Just listen for the door, pizza will be here soon."

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The sensation of having her hair brushed- the repetitive, surprisingly gentle tug of the bristles as Marissa coaxed knots and snarls into loose, voluminous waves- was a soporific one, lulling Autumn into a near-trance state typically achieved only by high-level yogis, Buddhist monks, and that guy in Algebra who listened to Phish and smelled like Little Tree air freshener. So it was, then, that the redhead was less guarded in the Mantis's lair than she would normally be. 

"I'm not trying to be rude or anything, it's just weird to be here, I guess," she murmured dreamily. Had she ever been pampered like this, indulged in such a simple luxury with someone else? She couldn't remember. Maybe... there was a vague memory of her grandmother doing something similar when she was really young, brushing and curling the fine copper strands through her fingers until Autumn had fallen asleep in her lap. It was odd to compare the two scenarios, she acknowledged distantly, but it also felt kind of the same? There wasn't a name she could put to the feeling, but it was nice. Not for the first time that day, she let herself be vulnerable, baring her metaphorical throat before the fangs of an unfamiliar beast and trusting that it wouldn't bite. 

It was a risk, definitely, but something had cracked Marissa's perfect, exquisitely deadly mask for just a moment when she'd thought her brother was in danger, and Autumn had seen something far more beautiful, in her mind, underneath. 

Humanity.

"I haven't had a sleepover since my birthday, in like, fourth grade, and you scare the hell out of me," she sighed, exhaling the words more than uttering them. "This weekend has been wild."

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"If only your knack for understatement was as keen as your daily haircare regiment," Marissa grumbled as she kept straightening Autumn's fiery mane.  After a few moment's of silence she nudged her guest.  "I'm kidding, lighten up."

She chuckled and stopped brushing.  She stepped around to face Autumn and leaned against the dining table that was not far from the 'bar'/island that sat divided the small kitchen, dining room areas.  "Why do I scare the hell out of you?"

"You're kidding, right?"  The red haired teen looked at Marissa like she was out of her mind.  When her hostess just raised her eyebrows and nodded, she conceded an answer.  "Marissa, you're intimidating, an absolute bitch, now let's tack on that you're also incredibly rich, gorgeous, and powerful in terms of the social hierarchy.  You've never been nice to anybody, as far as I know - you twins have been godawful to everyone for a long time. Hell, you were friends with Courtney."

Marissa's eyes went wide as she took it al in, slacking her lips into a frown and nodding in appreciation of Autumn's honestly.  When it looked like she might apologize for something she she said, Marissa raised her hand to stop her.  "No, no, it's okay.  You're right.  Except the Courtney part.  We weren't friends so much as associates.  I've never had friends before, I've never even had a sleepover.  Hold on..."  She gestured for Autumn to wait a moment and scurried off not far to the book shelf just by the massive television and gaming consoles.  She lid a book off by its spine and ran back over, handing it to Autumn as she leaned on the table again.  It was an old book, or at east, it seemed to be old.  It was folded, creased and worn with all manner of writing and little post-it tabs sticking out from practically everywhere.  It was titled '200 Tricks for Making Friends and Finding Self-Confidence'.

Autumn turned it about in her hands, looking at it from all angles, expecting it to maybe explode or be a glamor that concealed the fact that she was holding Marissa's spell book and she was really a witch.  She thumbed the pages like a deck of cards and inside the book were all kinds of notes, either scrawled on the edge of the pages or on little post-its or torn notebook paper.  "Wh-what's this?"  She asked, a bit confused.

"Origin story time," Marissa smiled, pushing her butt from the table she went back to brushing Autumn's hair.  "Listen for the pizza.  So, Devin and I have never really had friends before.  Our mom was always trying to use as a stepping stone to get into Hollywood, because, well, California.  From as long as my brother and I can remember it was pageants and talent shows and commercial auditions.  We did the whole Disney casting thing every year.  I mean, we were twins, and we were attractive... so mom just wanted to get rich making us child stars."

"So, as you might imagine it was a lot dance classes, acting classes, all manner of instruments and of course gymnastics and singing.  You name it, sister, we did it."  She said in a rather unenthusiastic tone.

"Can Devin really do flips and stuff?"  Autumn asked.  She tried to tild her head back to ask Marissa directly, out of habit, until Marissa pushed her by the cheek with three of her fingers so she was looking ahead again.  "I heard he was like doing all kinds of flips and stuff over the picnic tables at school, once."

"He can, and he was," she laughed.  "He took to that as his outlet.  I just walked away with stage fright."  She sighed.  "Anyway, school in Malibu is a bitch.  We were going to school with children of actual celebrities and senators and the richest of the rich the world had to offer.  We all know kids are brutal, well, rich kids are worse.  By Malibu standards, out family's almost seven figure income was like trailer park living, so we got treated like the poor kids.  Picked on, talked down to, and when they heard our mom was trying to get us into the child star racket, well... it got worse because overtime we didn't get a part or win, they destroyed us over it."  Marissa laughed.

"You think I'm gorgeous?  Autumn, these kids were professionally pretty.  They were living, breathing, walking images of what their parents needed them to be in public so they made mommy and daddy's cred look better.  We had a girl in our class, we were," she paused to think for a moment.  "Twelve maybe?  Right before we moved here, so yeah.  Anyway, she started filling out her training bra and within three months... she had implants."

"What?"  Autumn exclaimed, shocked.

"Yup.  Like, is that even legal?  Answer: In the real world, no.  In California... yes.  I swear to god when I tell you that this was her reply when she was asked about them... 'my mom said I'd grow into them'."  She fumed and although Autumn couldn't see it she was rolling her eyes, heavy on the roll.  Devin used to be beat up all the time.  Sometimes just because, most times because he was standing up for me.  I was just average in a world of glam gods.  So, through out the years when Devin needed someone I was the person who he collapsed into and cried.  When Mom had ran us ragged with dance and gymnastics classes and my ankle was swollen to the size of an orange?  He was the one rubbing my ankle with Icy Hot for hours until the swelling went down.  We were the only friend the other had."

"Growing up for us was a miserable experience," she chuckled but Autumn caught the stress in her voice, like she was trying not to get emotional.  "I mean, look at this place.  They even moved us down stairs and gave us our own apartment-like basement so we wouldn't bother them."

"So, what about the book?"  Asked Autumn, wincing as Marissa caught a small knot in her locks.  "How does it play in?  Because honestly, I thought you were going to say something like you were bit by a radioactive mantis or something..."

"When we moved here we hated the idea, but we had all summer to prepare for, well, Shelly High.  We were the rich kids now, frankly Shelly was a fun-void, and we were bored as hell.  So, we discovered that if you applied those two hundred lessons to ourselves, and bullied the opposite into others, we could rule the school.  We wondered if it would actually work, so I started wearing more makeup and YouTubed up my Diva vibe, and Devin, well, he just kept acting like himself, honestly, and we gave it a shot.  Sure enough I were elevated to god-like status in only a few months.  We were never going to feel like we did in California.  We were weak, bullied, picked on, constantly put down because have the life all the other kids had.  Three years later, I guess the persona has stuck, it's who I am now.  You should have met me in California.  I was the sweetest thing, naive, completely stupid and fighting evil spirits in four inch hiking heels?  Not a chance."

Autumn laughed.  "You know that's not a thing right?  Hiking heels.  Ow!"

Marissa tugged her hair.  "I stand by my purchase."  She said flatly.

"So, you and your brother, as a demented social experiment, decide to use a self-help book, emotional abuse, and reverse psychology to brow beat and bully an entire school district into worshiping you,"  she shrugged like she was guessing because the idea seemed so ludicrous.  "...because you were bored?"

"Pretty much."  Marissa replied as a casually as the raw truth could pass a woman's lips.

There was a long moment of silence.  Marissa sat her brush down and it appeared she was done with it for now.  Autumn did all the math in her head and shook her head with a grin.  "The is, without a doubt, the single most messed up, evil, and maladjusted thing I've ever heard... also, the coolest.  Points for dedication, you two are beasts."

"We try."  She smirked and handed Autumn a mirror.  "See?"  At that moment the door bell rang and Alexa announced the pizza had arrived.  "Duh, stupid robot voice.  Be right back."  With a bounce in her step that seemed out of character for Shelly's unofficial ruler, she ran up the steps to collect dinner.

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Left to her own devices, alone in the heart of the young queen’s domain, Autumn peered into the glass she’d been handed. The shape of her nose still annoyed her unaccountably, as always, but at least there was nothing embarrassing stuck in her teeth. After years of hating them, she’d decided she liked her freckles, and as she made faces at her reflection, she could see traces of both her parents there. That, she guessed, was probably good enough. There was no glamour cast on the mirror to make her pleasant, but unremarkable features suddenly beautiful, and while the energetic redhead didn’t have any special hang-ups about the way she looked overall, she was honest enough to admit that where Marissa was undeniably striking, genuinely gorgeous… She, herself, would only ever be “pretty;” the almost incomprehensible presence of Shelly’s demonic princess was her gift, and hers alone. No witch’s incantation or self-help grimoire would change that, no matter how well-worn its pages. Still, she had to concede, the other girl had managed to make her typically uncooperative copper mane- frequently braided or twisted into a messy knot out of frustration- settle into rather gentler waves. Given the bewildering array of products she’d brought out, Autumn was reasonably sure Marissa hadn’t planned to stop with a few mere swipes of a hairbrush.

 

She wasn’t entirely sure how she felt about that, but… 

 

Sparing her reflection one final glance, she set the mirror aside. Was it really possible to be friends with the wicked bitch of the west? What would that even mean? The chair creaked softly with the shifting of her weight, fingertips drumming restlessly on her thighs as she examined the ceiling for a moment, then rolled up to her feet. Just sitting there was maddening, and as she walked around the subterranean “apartment” that was bigger than most people’s houses, some of her perpetual restlessness dissipated, clearing up mental space to focus on the now. 

 

Chewing idly on her lower lip, Autumn wandered purposelessly through the basement, idly skimming through shelves of video games and movies without really reading the titles. It was Marissa who’d said they were friends, but… what was a “friend” to the Queen of Mean? Was it someone she thought might be useful in her plans for world domination, someone who was willing to publicly take abuse? Or-

 

The book caught her eye again, as she passed the chair and paused.

 

Maybe just someone who was there? That’s all that had happened in the woods, anyway, as far as she knew. Autumn had just… been present. That was it. Marissa had hugged her, made her feel better and that was that. It was sort of like she’d just assumed that’s how things worked, and because she uttered the decree, their friendship was set in stone. But… why?

 

The redhead tugged on a strand of hair as she walked, twisting the end between the fingers of both hands, pulling it straight, and then releasing it- only to repeat the process again.

 

The brunette clearly had more depth, as a person, than she’d seemed. Marissa had a personality, if their current interaction was anything to go by, but everything she’d just said contradicted the way she acted around other people. So, cool. The “origin story” made sense- nice kid has no control of their life and gets picked on, becomes not-nice kid and… gets control of their life. As the different fragments, tiny slivers of what she knew about Mari began to fit together, the pace of her pacing quickened.   

 

Maybe that was why Marissa had insisted they were friends? Autumn might never have approached on her own, or even considered the possibility of hanging out, let alone friendship. Maybe Marissa just didn’t want to run the risk of someone not choosing her, so she made the first move? Or, maybe it was simpler than that. Maybe it had just been the stress of the whole nightmare hellbeast thing, and the persona she worked to build had slipped away for a moment in the chaos and panic.

 

If that was true, then… It meant that, impossibly, Marissa Jauntsen did actually want friends.

 

Holy shit.

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Upstairs...

Marissa closed the door, flashing the pizza guy a flirtatious smile.  He was cute.  She would never date him, because, well, pizza delivery guy, but he was still cute and always polite to her.  She spun around with two large pies and as she entered the kitchen she was nearly startled to death by Devin suddenly appearing in front of her near the fridge in a muted flash.  She would have grabbed for her heart but her teenage instinct to put pizza first took hold and she succeeded in not dropping either of them.  "Jesus, fuck!  Where the hell did you come from?"

"Uh," he closed the fridge door, holding a Coke.  He popped the top and took a sip.  "Mom's vagina.  Remember?  You were there.  Sweet, pizza."

"No," she swung the boxes away from him, denying him a slice.  "Okay, maybe one, but you have to help me out, first."

"What's up," he asked as leaned on the island in the kitchen.

With an exasperated sigh she set the pizza's on the counter.  "Deej, Autumn is here."

"Oookay, why are you saying that like she's stalking you with a broken voice box?"  He laughed.

"Because I have no idea what I'm doing!  I don't know how to be a friend, let alone have them."  She leaned on the island too, resting her elbows on it and burying her face in her hands.  "We've never had a friend.  I don't know what to do, how to open up, how to be... normal.  I don't have your carefree attitude, I'm a control freak, I need to be in control so people don't... y'know..."  She waved her hands out to him, signaling her faith that he knew the answer.

"EmJay," her brother said calmly.  "That was three years ago.  Different people treated us that way and we learned, and we grew.  You have to let it go at some point or it will eat you up inside."

"I, I can't.  The way I felt up there, the ridicule, the abuse, the things they did to you... people don't change just because you move.  Jason destroys people for crying out loud, prime example.  If they have the chance, they'll ruin you, it's just human nature.  I don't know if I can do this.  I'm not you."

He tipped his Coke back and smirked.  "True, I did get all the personality and good looks."  Marissa laughed and slapped him in the chest with the back of her hand.  "You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.  You're a Diva, and always the center of attention... why not try putting the spotlight on others.  Get to know Autumn, find out her likes, dislikes, hobbies, whether or not she thinks your brother is hot.  You know, try, for once, not to make it all about you.  You can do this, Em.  My sister brought an entire high school to its knees in worship of her, and you're threatened by a single soulless ginger?  Dare I say you've lost your edge?”

She stood up proud, glaring at her brother with a regal, imperious expression.  "Tread lightly, brother."   Her eyes narrowed until she broke into a wide smile and chuckled a bit.  "Make it about her, get to know her.  I think I can do that.  She does think you're hot by the way."

"Eh, that's kind of a given.  I'm all kinds of impressive."  He waggled his eye brows and took another drink.  "You got this, O' sister of mine.  The only reason people today are so lonely is because we're so busy building walls instead of bridges.  Now get down there and do me proud."

With a warm smile Marissa kissed her brother on the cheek.  "Best brother ever, you have earned your slice."

"Yeah, yeah," he waved her off with a mock lack of concern as he stole a slice from the top box.  "Love you too."

Marissa took her pizzas and marched off down the basement steps.  Devin smiled and finished his Coke.  He didn't say so, but he was happier than she knew.  She was a tad more damaged than he was by their upbringing and to see her, even if she was only trying, warmed his heart.  Had she fostered it too long, a part of him was scared that the Evil Queen vibe she was nurturing would be irreversible and just become who she as.  This was a start.  "How many slams in an old screen door?"  He said softly, remembering words from his childhood.  "Depends how loud you shut it.  How many slices in a loaf of bread?  Depends how thin you cut it.  How much good inside a day? Depends how good you live ’em.  How much love inside a friend?"  He smiled and crushed his Coke can and tossed it in the trash and took a bite of his pizza slice.  "Depends how much you give ’em."

With a muted flash and a vacuous thump, he disappeared again.

Downstairs...

"Sorry, sorry," Marissa said as she waddled down the stairs hefting to large pizza boxes.  "My brother came home, we chatted for a second.  On a side note, he totally thinks you're hot too."  Okay, so, not entirely true, but Autumn didn't need to know that.  Anyone was better than Lona for her brother at this point and still wasn't sure what he was trying to prove by dating the local manic-depressive skinhead.  Might as well help him keep his options open.

Autumn spun about from her place at the book shelf, still twirling her hair absently.  Marissa set the pizzas on the island and proceeded to grab some plates, grated cheese from the fridge and ranch dressing.  She wasn't sure how Autumn took her pizza so she grabbed the most common extras.  Autumn approached the island and took inventory.  They smelled delicious.

"Drinks!  I forgot drinks, we have water in the fridge or Coke up-"

"Marissa," Autumn cut her off calmly.  She raised her hands and eased her hostess down some.  "Relax.  Slow down.  You don't have to wait on me hand and foot."

Marissa sighed.  A few weeks ago she would have had Autumn's head for even looking in her direction and here she was having a pizza sleepover with her.  Life was so messed up and confusing sometimes.  "I'm sorry, I'm just...," she took a deep breath.  "I'm not good at friend making, Autumn."  Make it about her. She wanted to, she really wanted to, but everything she thought to talk about she knew she'd ruined for Autumn at one point.  The guy she had a crush on last year.  Her interests in school.  She couldn't even go to Bunnee's without people making fun of her for something.

Jesus, fuck.  Marissa realized.  I'm horrible.

"Um, so... you do uh, camping stuff, right?"  Sure.  Let's go with that.  Marissa didn't camp, there was no possible way she could've ruined camping for her at any point.

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“Okay, so first, the only two people on the planet who think I’m hot are my mom and Lizzo,” Autumn replied, winding paper towels around her hand and deciding which slice had the most crispy brown bits on the cheese. She glanced up at Marissa over the lid of the open pizza box, the hint of a smile on her lips suggesting the Devin comment had failed to find its mark, especially given the brunette’s earlier admonition against venturing into those waters. Still, the prettier of the Jauntsen twins was at least trying, so… Credit where it’s due, I guess. “Which is fine, since that means I can spend less time worrying about getting the wings on my eyeliner to match up perfectly, and more time doing other stuff that I actually enjoy.” Grabbing one slice of pepperoni and one plain cheese, she maneuvered them onto a plate. After the drive back from the car auction and running around with the others at the Wilson-now-Bannon Farm, she’d gone straight to the Jauntsens’ house, and somehow skipped eating in between any of that- a fact which her stomach unhappily reminded her with an audible grumble. “Yeah, yeah,” she muttered to herself. “I know, I’m working on it.” 

 

“And, yeah,” she continued, shaking some parm onto what would probably constitute her entire carbohydrate intake for the next couple of days. “I do camping stuff. There’s a place up by my grandparents’ house I’ve been going to since I was a kid-” her voice wavered slightly, and she carefully replaced the grated cheese on the counter with the soft clink of heavy glass. Just breathe, and keep talking. Answer the question. You’re already here, so just deal with it. She tried again, exhaling through the tightness in her chest that those memories conjured. “But, um, yeah. Out there, there’s either a thousand things to do, or none at all, and it just kind of depends on the person, and the day. You can fish, or hunt, or go climbing, or canoeing, or kayaking, or swimming, or just pick a direction and walk to see what’s there.” 

 

The freckle-faced girl leaned on the counter as Marissa made her own selections, not wanting to just start shoveling food into her face while her hostess was still prepping a plate. “Sometimes I can spend the whole day running around, and sometimes I just set up a hammock and watch the stars. It’s nice to just… shut off for a while, only do the things I either really need to, or really want to, whenever and however I want to do them. I know there’s a bunch of good spots around Shelly, but that one’s my favorite, y’know? I used to do the Girl Scout Ambassador trips too, but a couple of years ago, I guess someone complained that it wasn’t fair that some of us got out of school for non-school-related stuff, and the school board stopped it.” She frowned, remembering Dana’s terse conversations with other parents over the phone; no matter how worried her mom had been about her back then, the fact that Autumn’s grandfather was too sick to go out with her anymore just wasn’t their problem. If the other kids had to be in school, so did she. “It really sucked, you know?” she added quietly, twisting her paper towel into unrecognizable shapes with trembling fingers. “It was right when my grandfather started getting really bad, um, and I thought even if I couldn’t go with him, y’know, any, uh. Anymore.” It was getting more and more difficult to get the words out, and Autumn wasn’t even sure why she was telling the black-hearted princess all of this, but she’d already started and it was too late to stop, even if she wanted to. 

 

“Then I could do the big camping trip, you know? And I could tell him about all the stuff we did and, um, all the service projects we were planning on doing, and all that, and maybe he would feel better, and then I couldn’t, because-” 

 

Oh, god, I can’t do this. I can’t.

 

Autumn suddenly took in a big gulp of air, breath hitching convulsively in her chest as a wave of hot tears streamed down her flushed cheeks. “I’ll be right back,” she managed, swiping across her eyes with the back of her arm as she all but ran to the bathroom and closed the door. Almost immediately, she turned on the cold water, letting it fill up the bowl of her cupped hands and splashing it on her face. She repeated this process, gasping at the icy shock of it on her hot skin, until she managed to stop shaking and her breathing was something close to normal. Staring up into the mirror, letting the cold water continue to run over her fingertips, she grimaced at the thought of what the other girl would say about her blotchy, red face, but it was done. She'd embarrassed herself pathetically in front of Marissa Jauntsen, in her domain, and now she was going to have to go back out there and eat fucking pizza and find some way to get through the rest of the night.

 

“Well,” she murmured to her reflection with an uncharacteristically rueful grin. “At least it’s not something she hasn’t seen before.” Sighing, the redhead shut off the water, dried her hands and cheeks on a nearby towel, and headed back out to face the music. “Sorry,” she offered with an apologetic smile as she headed back to the island, and the plate she’d abandoned. “Thanks for the pizza, by the way. I’m starving.”

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As Autumn practically ran to the bathroom Marissa felt her heart sink in her chest.  She'd never paid much mind to the the way her actions had effects on others, to her cruelty was just a passive thing that she did without thinking and people eventually just 'got over it'.  She never took the time to consider the lateral effects it could have.  She was the one who filed the complaint about the camping trips.  She was the one who denied Autumn those simple pleasures that blossomed into memories and stories she could share with her ailing grandfather so that he could rest peacefully knowing his Granddaughter was living a life she cherished by doing the things that brought her the most joy.  Marissa's cruelty had robbed Autumn of the privilege of bringing happiness and light to the final days in her grandfather's life.

She paced back and forth, keeping back the swelling of emotion building as she began to the sensation of sorrow and regret creeping up in her chest.  Her guest returned, seemingly more composed than when she left, and thanked her or the pizza.  She smiled as best as she could manage.

"It was me," she said softly.  She didn't know why she said it, but something inside of her was screaming at her for the person she was.  Was it guilt?  "Autumn, I am sorry.  I was the one who complained about the trips.  I just wanted to be mean, and cruel and spiteful.  I was just trying to ruin enjoyment for everyone and," her eyes glistened with the sheen of newborn tears.  "I did not know about your grandfather."

Shortest friendship ever.  It was probably for the best though, Marissa was never good at these sorts of things and she knew if wasn't tonight it would just be later down the road that she found some way to push Autumn away.  She simply waited now for Autumn to storm out of the house so she could gorge herself on depression pizza and cry herself to sleep.

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