█ act one: way down we go ♫
“Yeah, well, I’ve been living out of a conference room for the past two weeks,” Dante scoffs, shooting Melanie a knowing, sideways glance. “You know those suits I told you about? Thought I’d never get ‘em to leave. They basically set up camp in the breakroom while I wasn’t looking.”
His nose wrinkles at the very mention of the word ‘suits’. There’s a special kind of irony in the fact that the business end of things was his least favourite part of running a business. Most of the time, he’s got people dealing with that sort of stuff for him. Dante’s still trying to get used to it, this whole having people thing — all those designers and programmers and accountants all relying on him to make a livelihood. If it were up to him, he’d probably spend the entire day hunched over his workstation like some kind of cave creature, completely senseless to the world around him, but he’s seen The Social Network enough times to know that the quickest way to get screwed out of your own company was letting other people run it for you.
Right now, though, he really needed to shut up about work. He isn’t in SF anymore. He’s in Delton, standing in the middle of a football field with one of his best friends and a bunch of people from high school he never thought he’d see again. The more he thinks about it, the less real it feels.
Like an optical illusion.
Dante flicks a hand through the air, fingers fluttering as if to clear away the last unwanted dregs of memory.
“…But yeah, other than that, I’ve been good! Peachy keen. I think I need a touch-up, though. These roots are making me look like Guy Fieri.” Grinning, he rakes a hand through the strands of hsi hair for emphasis. Nevermind that he’d just gotten off a flight that morning where an inhumanly tenacious eight-year-old had taken it upon herself to kick the back of his seat every minute or so. He’s actually feeling pretty alright for someone running on two hours of sleep. That power nap he’d taken once he got back home was doing wonders, as was the very, very strong coffee swirling inside his thermos, which comes dangerously close to sloshing out when he uses it to gesture toward Melanie. “You gotta catch me up with all the crazy shit you’ve been up to after we finally crack this thing open, and… where the hell is it, anyway?”
Dante makes a show of looking around, hoping to God that the capsule wasn’t still buried in the ground somewhere. He didn’t exactly have ‘digging a ditch’ on his agenda, least of all in this weather. Then, Billy makes a smart-ass comment and it all comes rushing back to him at once. With that trademark white hair and sly grin, of course it had to be him.
“C’mon, man, you’re killing me here. I was trying to make a grand entrance and shit.” Laughing, he gives Billy a playful shove, and after a moment’s hesitation, waves off the proffered cigarette. “Nah, I’m good. Still smoking the same brand, huh?”
Dante remembers heading round to the back of the school or under the bleachers to sneak a smoke with him and Sam, how they would stomp out the cigs beneath their heels whenever they saw a teacher coming and pretend like the smell didn’t instantly give them away. And yes, there was also that thing with the band. After watching a grainy, 240p video online of The Velvet Underground’s Venus in Furs, learning how to play the guitar became Dante’s latest obsession. He never really got much further beyond the fundamentals, but he knew how to play power chords, keep and keep a tune, and apparently that was enough for Billy to welcome him into the fold.
Slim pickings at Ritman, he supposed; and it was, admittedly, a rather short-lived venture. Thankfully, though, he gets an actual answer to his question about the time capsule sooner rather than later.
“Wait, don’t tell me. It’sss… Trystan, right?” Dante mentally congratulates himself for remembering his name. The two of them rarely ever spoke to each other, but he mentioned Trystan to his mom after coming back from school one day, and since then, she always thought that they could’ve been friends. There weren’t many Filipinos living in Maine, and even less in Delton. Always good to meet people like yourself, she said; except Dante could hardly speak a word of Tagalog while Trystan seemed dead-set on avoiding him. Between those two things, there was never really any chance of them becoming BFFs like his mother thought they were going to.
Still, he’s here now. No harm in making conversation while they wait.
“How’ve you been, man? Cool hair.”
Right on cue, he spots Meir making his way back, lugging along something heavy and metal. Dante screws the cap of his thermos back on before stuffing it into the side pocket of his bag. In spite of it all — the wait, the cold, the awkward everything — he actually finds himself getting kind of excited for the big reveal. Up until he got the invitation from Jack, he’d almost forgotten about the time capsule altogether. Seeing it now, though… Has it really been seven years?
So who can blame him if he looms a little too close, peering over Meir’s shoulder as he starts prying open the capsule? Shifting his weight from one foot to another in nervous anticipation, he waits for some kind of laugh, maybe a cheer when the lid finally pops open, but a moment passes, and all he gets is a look of bewilderment from Meir.
“The fuck?” Dante picks it up himself, turning the container this way and that as if doing so would dislodge something or reveal a secret compartment. When nothing else happens, he shakes his head in disbelief and lets the capsule fall uselessly to the ground. “Where is — who put the Necronomicon in here?”
█ act one: way down we go ♫
Ibarra Residence ▸ Ritman High, Football Field
Interacting with @Aeolian @Benzaiten @Prisk + everyone else
Dante wakes with a start. His phone alarm blares its relentless cry from atop his nightstand, and he reaches over to silence it with a clumsy swipe of his hand before flopping over to stare up at the ceiling. A few glow-in-the-dark stars are still stuck to its surface, the only remnants from a period in his childhood where he thought he was going to work for NASA. Obviously, that didn’t work out, but he likes to think he’s done pretty well for himself either way.
It takes him a few moments to fully reorient himself. He’s back in Maine, in Delton. He’d just gotten off a plane three hours ago, drove straight down from Brunswick to crash at his parents’ place. Right now, he’s in his childhood bedroom, laying in his squeaky old bed with his favourite flannel sheets.
Why is he back again?
…Wait, that’s right. The reunion.
Somewhere within the tangled mess of looming deadlines, hotfixes and shareholder meetings rattling about in his skull, Dante manages to find purchase on a single thread. He’d RSVP-ed to Jack’s invite, hadn’t he? It must’ve been a couple months ago that he saw that notification pop up on Facebook. Something about a demolition and a… time capsule? He certainly felt like he’d travelled back in time, sitting here in his old room with everything exactly how he remembered it.
The last time he came back to Delton was two, almost three years ago for Christmas, and then frmwrk had gotten its first investor and everything started moving so fast that most nights, he barely had time to go home to his own apartment in SF. During that time, most of Dante’s interactions with his parents had been limited to long-distance calls and FaceTime.
So, yeah. It’s been a while. And he felt shitty enough about it that he finally decided to take some time off work to pay his folks a visit. Really, this whole thing with the reunion was just good timing. He could almost convince himself that he was killing two birds with one stone, whatever those birds were.
And honestly, part of him kind of wanted to find out what everyone else has been up to since leaving Ritman. Did they flee towards greener pastures like he did? There wasn’t much to do in Maine, after all, other than fishing and factory work. He knew he wanted out of here the second the Internet became a big thing, and made a point of moving all the way to sunny, sunny California for college.
He also wonders if any of his old schoolmates would actually recognise him. Or maybe they’d think he’d been replaced by some sort of imposter. But he’ll cross that bridge when he gets to it.
Dragging himself out of bed, he digs through his suitcase (still unpacked) for a fresh change of clothes — some jeans and a King Gizzard shirt — then trudges down the hallway to the bathroom. One ice-cold shower later, he’s starting to feel a little more human.
“Dante! Are you up? You’re going to miss your thing with your friends.”
“Just getting ready, mom!” Dante calls back, doesn’t bring up her use of the word ‘friends’. “I’ll be down in a second.”
His hair is still damp when he heads downstairs. There’s an olive green messenger bag slung over his shoulder, his laptop stowed inside just in case.
“Hey. I smell coffee. Is there coffee?” He loops an arm around his mother and gives her a light squeeze. Mrs. Ibarra has always been a slight woman, but Dante can’t help but feel like she gets thinner and thinner every time he sees her.
“You shouldn’t be drinking so much of this stuff, you know,” she chides, though she fills a thermos with coffee either way. “Too much caffeine is bad for you.”
“I know, I know. You tell me that every time you call.”
“I wouldn’t have to if you actually listened.”
“Ah, see? Now you’re just enabling me. I can’t be held responsible for my actions.” He accepts the thermos offered by his mom, takes a swig, then promptly begins to sputter and cough like a dying fish. “Damn, that’s hot.”
His mother doesn’t say anything else, but she doesn’t need to. Her Artfully Raised Eyebrow™ (which he’s currently withstanding the full force of) has always been her greatest weapon. In San Francisco, Dante could play at being the boss, the tech wunderkind all he wants. But back home, mom is still the one who calls the shots. Mercifully, however, she decides to give him a break just this once.
God knows he needs it.
“So? Should I assume you’re staying out late tonight?”
“I don’t know. Probably,” he answers with a one-shouldered shrug. How long do high school reunions take, anyway? He’s never been to one before, and one glance at his watch tells him that he’s already missed out on the pregame portion of the evening. Looks like he’s going to have to soldier through this thing while painfully sober.
Seemingly satisfied, she nods, and bustles away to pull some ingredients out of the pantry. “I’m making dinner soon. I’ll keep your portion in the fridge so you can have it when you get back. Oh, and your dad’s going to want to take you out for a spin on the sound tomorrow morning. He just got a new boat and it’s all he’s been talking about.”
“Wait. I thought he was already past his mid-life crisis.”
“Shush, you. Now get going. You’re late.”
It’s always strange seeing the school after dark, even more so when you haven’t been back in years. The building hasn’t changed much since the last time he saw it. A little more faded, perhaps, but the overall structure remained the same — a squat building of brick and glass that looked like it was pieced together from two mismatched sets of LEGO. As he pulls over next to the curb, he’s suddenly gripped by a sense of unease. It’s vague, just a tiny shiver that makes his hair stand on end, but Dante is unable to fully shake it even as he climbs out of the car, coffee in hand.
The text he got from Meir said to go around the side, so that’s what he does. The fence you would normally use to get into the school was locked, but that’s never been a problem before. It’s almost muscle memory, how his feet carries him around the perimeter to find the gap and slip through it. He was never the most athletic person back when he was going to Ritman, but he still liked hanging out here sometimes, sitting on the bleachers with whatever books he’d checked out from the library that week.
Now, with all the floodlights switched on, Dante could almost hear the roar of the crowd, a great, rising chant of ‘let’s go Magpies!’
Shit. He wasn’t expecting to get all nostalgic about high school. Must just be the Stockholm Syndrome talking; and God, there they were — a ragtag crew gathered in the middle of the field. Once he gets within earshot, he offers in greeting a two-fingered salute.
“Sup.” And after a moment’s pause, adds a little awkwardly, “It’s Junior, by the way. Though it’s Dante now.”
There were a few faces he recognised, some friendly, some less so, most he could barely put a name to, which he isn’t at all surprised by. At Ritman, he was happy doing his own thing, more often than not. Probably why his social life was next to nonexistent back then.
Subconsciously, Dante drifts towards the largest gap in the circle, which just so happened to be between Melanie and… Oliver? No, wait. Oleander. He’s slightly alarmed when he sees the wet sheen of tears in his eyes, but remembers enough decorum to not comment on it. Instead, he just offers him what he hopes is a commiserating smile.
Then, it’s on to Mel. Out of everybody here, she’s the one he was closest to, even if it did take more than a little persistence on his part to break through that steely exterior when they first met. Even today, he’s not quite sure what it was that drew him to her. Maybe it had been some sort of sixth sense. Or maybe he was just so excited to find someone who actually found his rants about if/else statements interesting, and also thought that Sonic Heroes was an underrated masterpiece.
Well, whatever the reason, Dante’s glad they were are friends, though he can’t help but wish that he’d put a bit more effort into keeping in contact after graduating. Pushing any regrets he might have to the back of his mind, he reaches out to pull Mel into a hug. “Fuck, it’s so good to see you again. Like in person and shit. How’ve you been?”
After one, two, three seconds, he lets go and takes a step back. He’s never known Mel to be overly fond of physical contact, so he figured he’d keep it short and sweet. Heaving out a sigh of relief, he flashes one last grin at her before looking to the rest of the group. There’s Meir, Billy, and of course, Natalie Miller.
“Nat,” he nods, the smile on his face dimming somewhat. The nickname rolls a little strangely off his tongue. Dante can’t recall ever having used it back when they were in school, because, well, they’ve never been on the closest of terms. He remembers her friends, how they would call him names and make fun of his clothes and hair. One of them even shoved him against a locker when they crossed paths in the school hallway, calling it an ‘accident’. Still, he knew better than to react. They’d grow bored with him sooner or later, and Natalie always seemed more of an onlooker than an active participant.
…Not that it mattered. But he had better things to worry about now than a few bad memories.
“So, how long have y’all been waiting?” he ventures, glancing from one member of the group to another. A sudden gust of cold wind has him unscrewing the cap from his thermos, bringing it up to his lips to take a fortifying gulp.