1. I failed

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           Loneliness. It had always scared me. More than boredom or silence or giant spiders on my neck. And that morning, as I stood among those tanned and tireless bodies that laughed and hugged and spoke of love, my fear of loneliness grew deeper. I could almost taste it in my mouth.

          The school was grey, just like we left it. It hadn't changed at all. The old brick walls were firm and steady, ready to imprison us again. I took a step back and I was two steps further. With mismatched socks and puffy eyes, I looked up at the sky and it was just as hungover. Italy, Italy, Italy! Everybody loved Italy for its clear sky and sunny beaches and romantic holidays, but for my city of Genoa autumn was the perfect season. September breeze carried the salty scent of the sea and mixed with wet orange leaves and it was dirty and grey and beautiful. It always poured at the beginning of autumn, as if to remind us lazy bastards that summer was officially gone. The rain battered against the closed shutters of comfy houses and in the morning left tear drops on palm and olive trees. 

          Genoa without rain was like teenage angst without cigarettes. So I lit up a Marlboro and took a puff. No, not only because I wanted to look like James Dean, although that's always part of it. I was just... my body was shaking and my hand needed something to hold.

          "Wow, you guys look like shit."

          I looked up, but before my eyes could even fall on her shadow, my heart stopped and raced at the same time. It was her. It was her raspy voice and her tone of nonchalance. It was her perfume, her black skinny jeans, her loud "Lose Yourself" by Eminem coming from the left dangling earphone. And of course, OF COURSE, you guys look like shit was the first thing she said. After three months in Paris with no contact, that was her way of showing us her love. No hugs, no 'I've missed you, guys', no kisses on the cheek. Just a brutally honest observation, Gaia Monforte style.

          "Nice to see you too, Gaia," Dario replied. "As you might have noticed, Pit and I just had the best night of our lives."

          He glanced at me for confirmation, but I just pressed my lips. Not to disappoint my best friend, but all I remembered from last night was him running around and poking everyone with a stick and me laughing my ass off because he looked like that fairy godmother from the Cinderella cartoon. That's the kind of details my intoxicated brain prioritized.

          "How clever,'' Gaia commented and glanced at me. "You can learn so much more when you're hungover."

          I shrugged, trying to pretend her sarcasm didn't get to me. ''Well, I already know the whole curriculum anyway."

          "Right," she said. "That's why you're repeating it."

          She never said much, but when she did, her words knew how to burn me. I was glad that at least she didn't say the word fail. It was a bomb, especially in her hands. She didn't know that, though. She didn't care if her words were like bombs to me.

          For the very first time this morning, her eyes met mine and I wished they hadn't. I'd been waiting for this moment the whole summer and she was ruining everything. That indifference on her face made me want to scream at the top of my lungs. Didn't you miss me, Gaia? Didn't you think of me at least once? Just once, in your luxurious hotel room or at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Didn't you wonder whose lips I kissed, whose hair I played with? Why did you leave, Gaia? Everything was sad without you. Summer felt artificial.

          She was cold, but God was she beautiful. I almost forgot how beautiful she was. With those Cleopatra eyes that scrutinized everyone, that long brown hair that she hid beneath her hoodie. She had a red Marlboro in her mouth and a beauty spot upon her upper lip. Despite all the toxic shit I stuffed into my body to forget it, I still had an F on my school report and I still had an embarrassing, torturous crush on Gaia Monforte.

          ''It's okay, Pit.'' Dario gave me a pat on the shoulder. ''It's not that bad, you know? I think flunking just made you more popular.''

          He laughed, I didn't. I found the whole thing pretty depressing, but that's just how things worked here. Maybe it was our school, our city or our country. Or maybe the whole world thought being stupid was in fashion. It was cool, right? Just like poisoning our lungs and burning our livers. Sometimes I hated myself for following these trends.

          "I still can't believe they flunked you and not me," Dario said. "I mean, I didn't even buy a single textbook!"

          "That's because you're hopeless," Gaia replied. "They just want to get rid of you as soon as possible."
           He laughed. "Yeah, you're probably right. Still, you gotta admit that –"

          ''Gaia, my love!''

          Virginia Colombo's voice oscillated in my ears. I knew it was her because she was the only one who squealed like that without embarrassment. She crossed the street, wearing her usual colourful cardigan and preppy skirt. Her obviously authentic Louis Vuitton purse was shaking in the air, her strawberry blonde curls bouncing as she walked. Red lipstick. Chanel perfume. Glamorous eyes. Everything was glamorous about this girl. Some thought her chubby cheeks weren't glamorous, her body too plump. They never said it out loud, though. They never dared.

          Virginia jumped on Gaia and covered her with kisses and hugs. ''I've missed you so much!''

          ''Come on, Vi.'' Gaia rolled her eyes with a semi smile. ''You know that I'm allergic to hugs.''

          Virginia released her and stepped back. She was the only one who could get away with fluffiness without being paralysed by Gaia's ruthless gaze. Her cheesiness made Gaia smile, even though it was a Mona Lisa 'I'm not actually smiling' smile. Anything Gaia did, it was never complete. It always missed something, like a beautiful but unfinished song.

          ''Oh Virgi, don't mind her. There's someone here who's not allergic to them.'' Dario opened his arms, a broad smile lighting up his face. She giggled and fell into them. Then, she kissed me lightly on the cheek and ruffled my curls.

          "Oh God, you look like zombies," she said. "Did you seriously go out drinking last night? What the hell were you thinking?"

          I smiled. I did look like a zombie, and I felt like one too. And most of the time, I had no idea what I was thinking. I thought a lot, though.

          Dario put a cigarette between his crooked teeth and lit it up. He grinned at Virginia and said, ''Well, we're Pit and Dario.'' And somehow that's all he needed to say.

          The basketball T-shirt he borrowed from me this morning was clearly too big for him. Everything was always too big for this guy, and not only because he was thin like a match. I think the world was too big for him, he just acted like it wasn't. Sometimes he worried me, but worrying about your best friend was cheesy so I never said anything. He was Dario. He kissed bottles of alcohol instead of girls and always wanted to fight everyone. He never did, though. No one dared to hurt him. He was like everyone's best friend, but I was his best friend. I think that mattered to me more than it should have.

          We were always together, the four of us. Invincible and inseparable since that first day of freshman year. We had other friends, of course, but they were other friends. Giggling girls with expensive cigarettes and cheap perfumes and unoriginal dudes that bragged about their motorbikes. Almost everyone had a motorbike here in Genoa, but they felt special about it anyway.

          I had a motorbike too. I smoked the red Marlboro they smoked. I walked the way they expected me to. They. They. They. Who the hell were they? I didn't know, all I knew is that I had to prove them something.

          They all knew who I was. I was Pietro Rossi. My flannel shirts were always wrinkled and my hair ruffled and unkempt. I was Pietro Pit. The guy who failed 10th grade, too cool to do his homework. The guy who hung out with the popular crowd. Trendiest clothes, trendiest bike, trendiest personality.

          I was Pit to everyone, so I became Pit to myself. That's the thing about words – sometimes I let them define me.

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