Warning: This poem contains some intense topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. Cuoio attends a Family dance with Chiara and Salvo (who is dressed en femme). A bully from Salvo's family shows up and starts harassing him again. Cuoio puts a stop to that very forcefully. The poem contains a lot of social interaction, most of it positive but some angsty, attempted gender policing, fatalistic feelings about past and present mistreatment, feeling unsafe at a family event, distrust of formal methods of problem-solving that haven't worked in the past, moderate violence, unfamiliarity with local customs, and other challenges. Current environment is largely supportive, and it works out pretty well in the end. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
"Small Beautiful Bones"
The villa at the heart of the compound
was lit by many lanterns, its tall windows
aglow with golden light in the evening
as Cuoio approached with Chiara
and Salvo at his elbows.
The children's dancing had evidently
taken over the courtyard, with a ring dance
following a circle of glossy tan flagstones that
stood out from the darker brown background.
The garage doors were all open,
and inside, the smooth floor provided
space for a Latin dance, with the band on
a portable stage in the one-car section and
all of the dancers in the two-car section.
Cuoio looked at the courtyard with
a stream of people eddying around
the ring dance and clogging the front
of the garages and said, "Let's
just go around the back."
So they backtracked a little
and followed the path to where
a patio and a two-story terrace
spanned the rear of the house.
People filled the swimming pool,
but left a clear lane to the door.
They came in past the bar and
the billiards room, up the stairs
to the breakfast nook, which now
housed an enormous buffet of
antipasti on platters and towers
of fine china or polished silver.
"Food first," Chiara declared.
She loaded a plate with fruit,
cheese, and cured meats --
then emptied it just as quickly.
Cuoio helped himself to
a bunch of grapes dripping
from a tower, and Salvo took
the little finger sandwiches.
They followed the music into
the grand room, beyond which lay
the gallery, dining room, and foyer where
people were also beginning to dance.
The band had formed up around
the grand piano tucked under
the spiral staircase by the door.
The first dance that they caught
the beginning of was a waltz.
Cuoio and Chiara followed
the custom of dancing together for
the first and the last, each intending
to entertain other partners between,
and Salvo invited one of the older ladies
who clustered on benches along the walls.
The waltz was gentle and elegant,
and Chiara made Cuoio look better than
he probably deserved to considering
that her skill far surpassed his own.
He wondered, for the first time,
how they chose the musicians for
these events, because he played
the guitar and the mandolin, and
had been learning the violin before
his life fell apart and he moved here.
Perhaps he could take lessons again.
The music was as lovely as the dancers,
gentlemen in their good suits or sometimes
a jacket and trousers, ladies in colorful dresses.
Cuoio admired the forgotten things,
homey miracles of their small beautiful bones
and their delicate strength as they swept
across the smooth parquet floors,
skirts whispering against skin.
Salvo's outfit was just as stunning
as Cuoio had expected, the shirt rippling
as he moved, the skirt-pants moving
first apart and then back together as
Salvo's legs opened and closed.
When the dance ended,
Cuoio and Chiara kissed cheeks,
knowing it might be a while before
they got to dance together again.
Salvo seemed a bit edgy, and
Cuoio sidled over to ask him,
"What's wrong? Are you not
enjoying yourself tonight?"
"It's nothing," Salvo said with
an unconvincing smile. "Just
some relatives I don't like much.
Achile made my childhood ... hard.
There are plenty of other people
I can spend time with instead."
"All right, if it's what you want," Cuoio said,
silently resolving to keep an eye out.
The band struck up a pizzica next,
a folk dance from Puglia once thought
to relieve the spasms caused by spider bites,
and now used occasionally for flickering and
more often for social entertainment.
The comares poured onto the floor,
women and a few men, because most of them
loved the vivacious flavor of these dances, and
because they weren't shy which helped put
other people in the mood for dancing.
Cuoio and Salvo watched as Chiara
pranced out with her friend Pomarola,
the two women frisking around each other.
Chiara had borrowed a pair of triangular scarves,
one white and one red, layered to accent her hips.
Pomarola had a red-and-yellow scarf tied
over her swishy black dress.
"That is so hot," Salvo murmured.
"They are all beautiful tonight."
"Yes, yes it is," Cuoio said happily,
watching the comares move. "We
could bake calzones in that dance."
He loved seeing Chiara show off
her athletic skills, and when she did it
in public, he felt like the luckiest man
in the world to have her in his life.
She made him feel alive again.
Pomarola twirled away with a Moorish girl,
yielding her place to a man whose dark curls
were caught back in a high, bouncy ponytail.
He flirted openly with Chiara, waving his arms
as if trying to herd chickens. She winked
and stayed just out of his reach.
"That is so hot," Salvo said.
"Look at his feet go!"
Cuoio looked, and yes,
the man's feet skipped and
skittered across the floor
with impressive speed.
"I am nowhere near that good,
but it's still fun to try," he admitted.
Salvo grinned at him. "Next dance?"
"Can you follow?" Cuoio asked.
"I'm learning to, but so far, I wouldn't
trust anything but my lead in public."
"I can follow or lead, depending
on my partner," Salvo said.
"Then I would be honored
to dance with you," Cuoio said.
It turned out to be a tango, which was
great practice for them learning to move
together, and Cuoio wondered why he had
never before thought of dance as good practice
for learning how to work with a bodyguard.
Probably because Galterio would have
given him an utterly dry look and declined.
In contrast, Salvo was bubbly as ever
and so light on his feet that they almost
seemed to float through the tune.
Cuoio had no idea how to flirt with
a male partner, but Salvo solved
that problem neatly with saucy steps
which made his skirt-pants flare and
long, smouldering glances with a wink
to show that it was all in good fun.
The end of the song brought them
back to the wall with bows of thanks.
Afterwards, Cuoio performed
a few more dances with strangers,
trying to choose ladies who looked
near his own level, and watching for
wallflowers in want of a partner.
It was a good way to meet people
and have a little fun together,
and Cuoio enjoyed it.
The next dance was a volta,
which Cuoio loved because of the lifts.
The ponytailed comare found Salvo
and asked, "May I have this dance?"
Salvo -- flattered and flustered in
equal amounts -- accepted.
Cuoio sought out Chiara on
the dance floor and swiftly paired up
with her, although it was encouraged
to change partners often so that everyone
could dance with multiple people.
As the music began, the two of them
bowed to each other, then skipped
lightly along the dance floor.
When Cuoio lifted Chiara, the skirt
of her dress flared and fluttered around her.
They hopped through the turn and then
repeated the same pattern.
It was an exhilarating dance.
Chiara tilted her head to show him
something, and Cuoio saw that Pomarola
was dancing with the elderly gentleman
she adored -- with a beefy bodyguard
behind her to provide the actual lift.
The teamwork was exquisite.
Cuoio grinned his appreciation
at Chiara for the tipoff.
When they parted company,
Chiara was quickly acquired by
a butch in a smart black suit,
whose brown hair showed
a streak of bluish green.
Salvo came off the dance floor,
flushed and lovely as he exchanged
farewell bows with his partner.
"Look at you, Alessio, all tarted up ...
are you changing professions again?"
purred a voice from behind them.
Salvo wilted like a wildflower plucked
from its stem by a careless hand.
"Afterglow," he said in a neutral tone.
"I'm sure we both have other places to be."
Cuoio spun on the spot and identified
the culprit by the look of shallow charm
on his face and the faint halo of red light
that trailed after him like taillight streaks.
"Oh, it's you," Cuoio caroled, cupping
a chummy hand around the back of his neck.
"I've been looking forward to this for months!"
Then he bashed the fellow's face against
the stone frame of the portico --
once, twice, thrice.
The small beautiful bones gave
a gratifying crunch as they broke.
Cuoio dropped Afterglow with
his right hand while corralling Salvo
with his left, and hustled out the front door
before anyone could try to stop them.
He cut a quick path through the crowd
in the courtyard, and didn't slow down
until they reached a niche with a bench
hidden by the overhanging foliage.
"How are you?" Cuoio asked
as they sat down together.
"I-I'm fine," Salvo said, although
he didn't sound fine. "He didn't
touch me, didn't have a chance
to get going this time."
"Thank God," Cuoio said.
"You know this Family better
than I do ... how much trouble
do you think I'll be in for this?"
"I don't know," Salvo said.
"We're not meant to fight
with each other ..."
"Ah well, if it gets me banished,
it's still worth it," Cuoio said.
"I won't let some bully abuse you."
"It wasn't -- exactly --" Salvo stammered.
Cuoio narrowed his eyes. "I know
full well that it was more than
one snotty comment tonight,"
he said. "Someone obviously
made your life miserable, and
I've been after him for a while.
I just finally found out who."
"Thank you," said Salvo. "I'm
the one who's supposed to protect
you, but I really appreciate it."
"We protect each other," Cuoio said.
"In a fight, you have my back. Never doubt
that I will stand up for you if you need it."
Salvo's answering smile was small but genuine.
It took longer than Cuoio expected before
they heard the deliberate scuff of boots
on the path approaching their refuge.
Cuoio looked up to see an older, portly man
waiting for him. His heart sank a little as he
recognized Nestore Dinapoli, the housefather
of the compound, who wouldn't come
looking to deal with a trifle.
"May I come in?" Mr. Dinapoli asked.
"I'll come out," Cuoio said, which
conveniently put him in front of Salvo.
"Well, that answers that question,"
Mr. Dinapoli said with a chuckle.
"What question?" Cuoio said.
"Whether you hit Afterglow out of malice,
or justification," said Mr. Dinapoli. "After you
left, I asked some brisk questions. It revealed
that Afterglow has been making trouble for
a while, but not necessarily your motive."
"I won't let anyone hurt my people," Cuoio said.
"Yes, a boss has the right to protect his own,
a point that Afterglow would have done better
to recall," Mr. Dinapoli said with a nod.
"He is the favorite of the patriarch where we
grew up," Salvo said with a tired sigh. "None of
this is new. I was just ... surprised when it
blew up instead of blowing over."
"Leave Salvo out of this," Cuoio said,
lifting his chin. "I'm the one who hit Afterglow,
and if there are consequences, I'll stand up for them.
Mr. Dinapoli shook his head. "It's more complicated
than that," he said. "True, we do not use violence
as a first solution to problems, and especially
we do not fight amongst ourselves."
"Tell that to Afterglow," said Cuoio. "I've
been cleaning up after him for months,
and only just found out who was behind
the mess he's made of my bodyguard."
"Oh, I shall," said Mr. Dinapoli. "I'll pass along
word that the patriarch has been playing favorites
in altogether the wrong way, and Afterglow will be
sent somewhere he can't cause such trouble. If he
handles that well, then he will have a chance
to earn back the Family's regard."
"What about me?" asked Cuoio.
"First, we --" Mr. Dinapoli waved at himself.
"-- have failed you as a Family. We gave
you a mentor but neglected to detail all of
the expectations for conduct. So you ran into
a tense situation before you got past the basics.
The proper response would be to address his boss,
and if that didn't work, your mentor or myself."
Salvo snorted quietly. "I tried working
through the usual, and it didn't work,"
he said. "That's why I left home."
"We strive for excellence, Salvo, but
that does not mean we always attain it,"
said Mr. Dinapoli. "There will be some
who are ... not a credit to the Family.
What's important is how we deal with
these problems when they come up."
"So what happens to me now?"
Cuoio asked, still trying to pry loose
an idea of how bad the punishment was.
"Considering the circumstances here,
our first concern is your education,"
Mr. Dinapoli said. "There is a class for
our older teens about such things as
deportment and problem-solving. For
de-escalation and negotiation, you'll likely
land with older students. These will serve
you well as the boss of your team."
That was embarrassing, but only fair,
and it was true they were necessary.
"Yes, sir," Cuoio replied.
"The other part is the more serious,"
Mr. Dinapoli said. "You will not be adding
anyone new to your team for at least
a month. You need time to learn, and
for your teachers to assess your skills."
That one pinched enough to make Cuoio wince.
He needed to rebuild his support network,
and the thought of waiting even longer --
with no guarantee of when it would resume --
made him feel like the ground had just dropped
out from under him, but he still said, "Yes, sir."
"Now that you know the rules,
if anything like this happens again,
there will be greater consequences,"
Mr. Dinapoli warned him.
"It won't," Cuoio said.
"I have faith in you, " said Mr. Dinapoli,
"or this would have gone quite differently."
"How badly did I hurt Afterglow?" Cuoio asked.
"I meant to give him a good knock but not
to do any permanent damage."
"You broke his nose and loosened
a few teeth," Mr. Dinapoli said.
"Nothing that can't be mended,
but considerably beyond what we
consider acceptable in-house."
"Understood," Cuoio said.
"Show me your hands," said Mr. Dinapoli.
"I didn't really hit him, I just shoved him ...
into a stone doorframe," Cuoio said.
"Besides, I'm tough guy, I'm fine."
"Hands," the housefather said firmly,
so Cuoio stopped arguing and showed them.
"Indeed, they look uninjured. For future reference,
do not ever assume that you cannot be hurt.
Some superpowers can get past each other."
"Oh ... right," Cuoio said. "I forgot about that."
"You'll need to account for that in your strategies,
but I think you have enough lessons for now,"
said Mr. Dinapoli. "After you finish these,
then consider one about superpowers."
"I can help too, if you have questions,"
Salvo offered. "I've been studying
superpower interactions for a while."
"Thanks, I'll take you up on that," Cuoio said.
"I can't afford that kind of mistake on assignment."
"Then I believe we are done here,"
Mr. Dinapoli said. "Cuoio, you will find
your comare waiting at the head of the path
to take you both home. I think you've had
enough excitement for the evening."
Cuoio winced again. It had been
a lovely dance, until Afterglow had
ruined it and he himself had put
the final nail in the coffin.
"Yes, sir," he said. "Thank you
for your guidance." Then he turned
to offer his hand to Salvo.
The bodyguard took it and
rose gracefully to his feet.
They waited for Mr. Dinapoli
to walk back toward the house
before following at a sedate pace.
Chiara was waiting for them,
as promised, and fell into step
on Cuoio's other side.
"That was a barbaric thing for
you to do," she said to Cuoio,
snuggling against his side.
"I am proud of you anyhow."
Salvo giggled. "Same here," he said.
Well, at least Salvo had come out of it
intact, and that had been the point.
* * *
Pomarola (Martina Busto) -- She has olive skin, brown eyes, and curly auburn hair. She is petite and curvy. Her nickname comes from a Tuscan tomato sauce, implying both "red" and "saucy." She comes from Milan. Pomarola practices Fior di Battaglia, an Italian martial art for comares, specializing in cloak-and-dagger and unarmed combat. She is friends with Chiara Acquesta. Her boss is Dantel Chiefari.
Origin: As a teenager, she dressed up for a masquerade with a mask that turned out to be a super-gizmo. Sent by a rival family, it was meant to disfigure her face, but instead gave her superpowers.
Uniform: High fashions. She loves dressing up in both contemporary and historic Italian clothing.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Social Graces, Good (+2) Crafts, Good (+2) Exuberant, Good (+2) Fior di Battaglia, Good (+2) Theatrical History
Powers: Average (0) Passion Gifts
Motivation: To live life to the fullest.
Baldassare Pilo -- He has light olive skin, brown eyes, and dark body hair although his head has gone completely bald. He is short and stocky. He works for the boss Dantel Chiefari.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Bodyguard, Expert (+4) Strength, Good (+2) Dancer, Good (+2) Loyal
Poor (-2) Can't Swim
Dantel Chiefari -- He has light olive skin folded into many wrinkles, brown eyes, and white hair. He is the partner of the comare Pomarola. He is planning to retire soon.
Qualities: Master (+6) Gentleman, Master (+6) Lover, Master (+6) Mob Boss, Expert (+4) Interpersonal Intelligence, Expert (+4) Wealth, Good (+2) Art Collector, Good (+2) Dancer, Good (+2) Italian History, Good (+2) Languages, Good (+2) Wine Connossieur
Poor (-2) Not as Strong as He Used to Be
Afterglow (Achile Sinacore) -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and brown hair with just a hint of red. He comes from Venice, and Sinacore is one of the primary Marionette families. A favored grandson of the patriarch in his villa, he is charming when he wants to be and a bully when he thinks he can get away with it. He works in the Family's gambling venues, where he excels at giving customers a good time while separating them from their money.
Origin: His superpowers emerged at puberty, making an already favored boy even more so.
Uniform: He dresses more casually than most Marionettes, often in jeans and a polo shirt. Sometimes he throws a dress shirt and tie over jeans, not realizing how tacky it looks.
Qualities: Good (+2) Gambling, Good (+2) High Alcohol Tolerance, Good (+2) Hot Sex, Good (+2) Logical-Mathematical Intelligence, Good (+2) Superficial Charm
Poor (-2) Bully
Powers: Average (0) Glow
He gives off a ruddy light. It doesn't actually do anything practical.
Motivation: To gain social status.
Watermark (Culaccino) (Vedette Fedele) -- She has light olive skin, brown eyes, and short straight brown hair with a wide stripe of bluish-breen. A blue-and-white tattoo of a wave wraps around the upper part of her left arm. She comes from the municipality of Cosoleto in the region of Calabria in Italy. Vedette is a soft butch lesbian, and prefers lovers of moderate to butch persuasion rather than femmes. Her personality is fluid, easily shaping itself to the current context around her. Skilled at reading people, she makes both friends and business contacts easily.
Watermark works as a bodyguard for the Marionettes, particularly in cases where raw physical violence is not ideal. She uses aikido and de-escalation skills, along with subtle touches of her Water Powers, to keep people safe. If provoked, though, she is entirely capable of making limbs swell to immobility or of filling someone's lungs with water. Her nickname comes not from the colored hair but from her habit of leaving dangerous opponents with a permanent spiral scar by distorting the water within skin cells, so that she and others can recognize them easily in the future.
Origin: When she was thirteen, she got swept away by a flood and presumed lost. She returned three days later with a broad aquamarine streak through her hair, and Water Powers.
Uniform: On duty, she wears a masculine business suit. Off duty, she wears fashionable masculine clothing, usually from Italian designers. For swimming, she likes turquoise and white striped swim trunks with a bareskin top.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Emotional Intelligence, Good (+2) Adaptable, Good (+2) Aikido, Good (+2) Bodyguard, Good (+2) Connecting with People, Good (+2) Dancer, Good (+2) De-escalation
Poor (-2) Worrywart
Powers: Average (0) Water Powers
Vulnerability: As a Water elemental, she takes double damage from Fire, whether superpowered or ordinary.
Nestore Dinapoli -- He has olive skin, brown eyes, and dark hair going gray with a mustache. He is portly and cheerful, and he wears glasses. He is the husband of Megliore; father of Liborio, Lucinda, and another daughter; and grandfather of several grandchildren. He is the housefather of a compound for the Marionettes.
Qualities: Master (+6) Family Man, Master (+6) Housefather, Expert (+4) Interpersonal Intelligence, Expert (+4) Politics, Good (+2) Painter, Good (+2) Patient, Good (+2) Strength
Poor (-2) Nearsighted
Nestore (Italian: "homecoming")
In the picture, Nestore is third from the left, beside his wife Megliore.
* * *
"In a dancer, there is a reverence for such forgotten things as the miracle of the small beautiful bones and their delicate strength."
-- Martha Graham
This is the villa in the Marionette compound where Cuoio and Chiara live. See the exterior front, the entrance circle, and the exterior back. Here are floor plans for the basement, first floor, and second floor. See the grand stairway, gallery, fireplace, kitchen, and rec room. Visible here is the mural wall opposite the fireplace in the grand room. The large open space spanning the grand room, gallery, and dining room is often used for ballroom dancing. This shows the front windows in the grand room and its parquet dance floor. The breakfast nook is often used to set up antipasti and/or a dinner buffet. You can see the rotunda of the nook beyond the table. Outdoors, there are many secluded areas, such as this niche with a garden bench.
Antipasti are Italian appetizers, also used as party snacks. There are fancy recipes, but you can also just assemble a plate from simple meats, cheeses, and other foods.
In a Family compound, the Marionettes host frequent social events. This usually includes a community dance at least once a month, most often semi-formal to formal, but sometimes more or less so. It gives people a chance to dress up, socialize, and have fun. A mix of music and dance styles are offered so that everyone interested may participate including children, elders, and people with special needs. You can read about community dances, family dances, and how to host a family dance party.
Learning to dance has many benefits. The right workout helps build a dancer's body. There are instructions for ballroom dance, slow dance, waltz, and many others. The more dances you know, the more popular you will become as a partner, and the more fun you will have on the dance floor, because you will rarely have to sit out due to not knowing the steps.
Etiquette of social dancing varies according to venue. The Marionettes are a little more conservative than a social dance club, which means they put less pressure on people to accept most dances or mingle with many partners. Some couples only ever dance with each other, and some people have a limited set of safe partners due to other personal reasons. The first and last dance are customarily reserved for one's escort if attending as a couple. However, it remains true that skilled and willing partners are the most popular. Unlike most venues, using superpowers on the dance floors is common and welcome, as long as it's done in a safe and courteous manner. Here are some more advanced tips on dance manners.
Wallflowers are people who rarely if ever dance at social events; they sit on the sidelines and watch. While some people enjoy watching others dance, many hang back due to social anxiety. The usual solution is to press the wallflowers to ask other people to dance with them. If that's a skill you want to learn, by all means do so. For many people, though, it's so unpleasant that they'd rather sit out or not attend at all. A better solution is to have designated dancers at an event whose job is to invite (not pester) people to dance so everyone gets a turn. It doesn't have to be that official, though; any capable dancer can become quite popular simply by inviting people who might not otherwise get to dance. Plenty of the Marionettes do this.
This Italian music glossary has many references to local dances. There are many styles of ballroom and folk dances.
Cuoio plays the guitar and the violin, which are among the most popular musical instruments. The mandolin is a famous Italian instrument.
Bullying involves people in complex social roles. When it happens among relatives, it can lead to exclusion from or avoidance of family gatherings. Victims of family bullying or other abuse often deny the severity of the situation. There are ways to cope with family bullies or help a friend who is bullied. While it is preferable to solve problems in a rational manner, this often fails to work on bullies. Most advice encourages people to be good victims, tolerate the abuse, and not fight back. Forget it. If you've tried the recommended methods and they haven't worked, you are justified in fighting back against someone who is still hurting you or yours.
Read about the waltz and watch an Italian waltz.
The pizzica is a folk dance from Apulia, related to the tarantella. They were originally used to treat a kind of hysterical behavior believed to come from the bite of a large spider, which in Terramagne could be anything from a spider soup to a shapeshifter to some other power such as Pheromones or Super-Speed. In addition to entertainment, the Marionettes use these dances to relieve flickering. There's a grain of truth in it: superpowers require energy, and if you exhaust yourself dancing, then there is less left over that can spark around randomly. Notice that it's a high-energy dance, without skin contact but with close interaction between two partners. They're dancing at a range where their personal energy touches at the edge, which helps maintain focus and prevent isolation.
Ballo liscio is Italian ballroom dance. Listen to the music and watch a dance.
A calzone resembles a folded pizza. Enjoy some recipes.
Gender roles in dance may vary by culture. Historically, people often switched roles, especially when the mix was uneven, but today in local-America it often meets hostility. There are advantages to learning both roles, as Cuoio is doing. In same-sex dancing, you get to choose whether you prefer to lead or follow, although the queer dance scene has its ups and downs. Some partners dress alike, others don't. One way to distinguish is for the lead to wear subtle tones while the follow wears bright tones, which in Terramagne is sometimes called "neutral and color" rather than "lead and follow" or "gentleman and lady." Watch some same-sex ballroom dancing and same-sex Latin dancing. Among the Marionettes, it's pretty common to see same-sex pairings, including cross-orientation ones between friends or acquaintances. Flirting on the dance floor is generally considered part of a social dance, not a genuine pass, except for singles events.
Tango has its own list of music. Watch a tango dance or learn the steps.
Volta is an old form of dance involving lifts. Listen to the music or watch the dance.
Know how to tell if a friend is struggling, ask if they're okay, and comfort an upset friend. Cuoio has known for a while that Salvo has some nasty relatives, so he's alert for the problem and not fooled by Salvo's attempt to cover it up.