38. The things we do for our loved ones

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When I got off the bus 17, I just hoped I wasn't too late. The indoor swimming pool was near my basketball gym and I knew that Nick would be there. Dario knew it too. As I paced towards my destination, I saw my motorbike improperly parked in the middle of the street. And then I saw them.

Nick was lying on the floor, his nose bleeding. His hair was still wet, his gym bag stuffed in the trash can. Dario was sitting on his stomach, smashing his face with both fists. Again and again and again. He punched him with so much force, his knuckles started to turn red. For a moment I froze, unable to recognize my best friend in this outburst of violence.

''Dario, stop!''

I ran towards him, but he didn't seem to notice me or even hear my voice. Nick's team mates were standing in the corner, just watching the scene. There were three of them, and they were all much stronger than Dario. They could have easily made him stop. But they didn't. They just watched. Nick's head was pressed against the asphalt, his face purple and full of bruises.

''Dario, stop!''

I grabbed him by his shoulders and he immediately pushed me away. There was so much strength in his arms, strength I never knew he possessed. He was thin like a match, he was Dario. And Dario didn't know how to fight. Yet here he was.

''He's a piece of shit!'' he screamed. ''A pathetic, miserable scumbag.''

His voice cracked. A mix of fury and heartbreak and disgust. He was crying. Dario was crying. For a moment I decided to let him do it. To let him keep punching Nick until there's nothing left of him. I even clenched my fists, ready to join him.

Because sometimes it was guys like Nick. Perfect students attending private schools, from the national water polo team. Always nice to everyone, never getting in trouble. Sometimes it was guys like him. Tall, blonde and with blue eyes. No one would ever think of him as despicable. No one would ever point their finger at him. Because he's Nick, you know? He's a good guy. Proper, well behaved. His mum is that nice woman from across the street, his dad always makes the best barbecue. They would never, right, they would never raise a child who has no respect or integrity.

Well, fuck that. He was an asshole. I didn't care how much money he raised for charity or how he helped out his grandma at the weekends. He was an asshole. I didn't care what an amazing athlete he was or how smart he was in class. He was an asshole. Because it wasn't only about the pictures and Virginia's reputation, it was about them, their love story, her first everything.

He couldn't accept it, could he? That she could survive without him. That she could be stronger, more beautiful. That she wasn't a sobbing mess without his love. He couldn't stand her recovery. He couldn't stand her success.

I unclenched my fists and grabbed Dario, wrapping my arms around him.

''Dario, stop,'' I said. ''This isn't gonna change anything.''

''Yes, it is,'' he yelled, kicking me and trying to get free.

I glanced at Nick's friends, signalling them that they had to help me. Two of them nodded and tried to put Nick on his feet. He was unconscious. They grabbed him and put his arms around their shoulders, carrying him away.

''What the fuck?'' Dario yelled. ''Let me go!''

I released him and he stepped away.

''This isn't the right way to – ''

''I don't care! I don't care what the right way is. Just leave me alone."

Just leave me alone. That's what he said. Maybe that's what he wanted. But I couldn't look at his bruised face and his shaky hands and just think that it would be okay for me to walk away and stay silent.

"No," I said, "I'm not gonna leave you alone. Because you know what? I'm sick of it. I'm sick of you ignoring me. I'm sick of you always rambling about video games and buzz and never talking about yourself. You're pretending everything is fine when you're obviously going through some shit."

"So what do you want me to do? Just start –"

"Just be honest! Just be honest, for fuck's sake! At least once."

He frowned and narrowed his eyes. There was blood on the asphalt, there was blood on his fists. His sweatpants were mud-stained at the knees, his shoes still unlaced.

"Oh, you want me to be honest?" he said. "You want the truth? Well, here's the truth. My dad left. He left on my fucking birthday, just grabbed his stuff and never showed up again. My mum texted me the news the next morning and you know what I thought? I thought, God I feel like shit, I'm just gonna wake up my best friend and we're gonna leave this shitty Milan apartment and we're just gonna take a train, the two of us, and forget about everything and everyone. But you were gone. You were gone, Pit. So I smoked and drank and felt numb for the rest of the holiday. And I told you I had a great time because when I came back you had this goofy smile on your face and I knew you cared and maybe you care now, but back then I thought that this was it. You had your own life and I had my own."

I gulped. Why didn't I know any of this? Why did things happen the way they did? God, I had so many things to tell him, I felt like there was so much he needed to know. But my mind was like a carousel and all I could do was listen to the waterfall of emotions pouring out of him.

"And look, Pit, I don't need you to tell me what is wrong and what is right. An angel whispering in my ear that I shouldn't do this or that. I already know it, alright? But you wouldn't understand even if you wanted to. You have this happy life with your happy parents and your happy girlfriend. And damn you if you let me ruin that.''

He sighed at the confused expression on my face.

''Sometimes I wish you never met me,'' he said. ''I wish you never talked to me that day in eighth grade, when my knuckles were as purple as now. I wish you just stayed there with your nerdy best friend and never wondered what the hell was wrong with the new kid.''

I shook my head, ''You don't actually think that."

He smiled. Not in a Dario – the charismatic guy – way. This smile was different, I had never seen it before. It was a smile of surrender. He looked up and then glanced at me as though he'd never see me again.

''Pietro, you should go home."

Thunder stroke the sky and shook the Earth. As I watched him walk away, those words repeated themselves in my head like a broken record. Pietro. Pietro. He never called me Pietro. I was Pit. I was Pit to him. Always. We were Pit and Dario. And now it was just me. Standing there like an idiot and letting the heavy raindrops hammer my skin.

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