5. Your silence

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Babyface - Birthday (cover by Jodie Mellor)

  Dario's place was a mystery to everyone. Everyone except me. He didn't live in a 'bad' neighbourhood, but it wasn't as prestigious as the one the majority of his friends lived in, including me. And it's not like he was ashamed of it. His family's flat was as normal as any other, it was the family that was problematic. His dad was unemployed, had been for awhile now. That, of course, pissed off his mum who worked 10 hours a day and came home exhausted every evening. The few hours they spent together, they usually spent them yelling and blaming each other for their own frustrations. Even this morning, their argument about cold coffee soon turned into 'why did I even marry you?'. The whole thing could be easily heard from Dario's bedroom.

"Thanks for coming over," he said as he put on his sweatpants. "They could have warned earlier about the bus strike."

"Oh, it's okay," I replied. "Just move your ass, I don't wanna be late again."

He chuckled and grabbed his backpack. "How did it go yesterday? Do you like your new classmates?"

"Yeah, as long as they don't talk to me."

I didn't know why I said that. It wasn't even true.

"Well, you should," Dario said. "You're gonna be stuck with them for another three years."

"Yeah, I know..."

We walked out his bedroom and crossed the living room. His mum was still yelling by herself in the kitchen, while his dad was lying in front of the TV. Dario didn't say anything to anyone and we just walked out the door.

The air outside still smelt of summer, and our ride to school was accompanied by a nice breeze. I parked my motorbike in front of the building and as Dario took off his helmet, he stared at Gaia and Virginia standing by the low wall. I looked at him and there was something in his eyes that broke my heart.

"Are you okay?" I asked.

"Yeah, I'm fine."

And then this question popped up in my head, because for a long time I had assumed and never asked.

"Do you love her?" I whispered.

He glared at me wide-eyed and flinched, but then he looked at her again and his eyes sparkled. "I wouldn't dare to."

We walked up to the girls and no one said anything. The tension only rose as we exchanged nervous glances. Dario took out a cigarette and cursed the whole world as he struggled to light it up.

Gaia was the one to break the silence. "Oh just apologize, you drama queen!"

"Who, me?" Dario replied. "I'm not being a drama queen. That Nick guy is an ass. You know that too, Gaia.''

She didn't reply. Virginia stared at him in silence too. And my eyes just darted around. Sometimes the three of them glanced at me, expecting me to do something. But I didn't want to take sides. This was supposed to be a normal morning, not a fucking delirium.

"Oh, I forgot to ask, who was that Stiff guy that called you?"

Dario looked at me at first confused, but then his face lit up. ''Right, I completely forgot. Stiff is just an old friend."

''Do I know him?'' I asked.

''Nah, I doubt that.''

''Do I know him?'' Gaia asked.

He shook his head again. ''I don't think so. I've known him since we were like five and he never mentioned you. Plus, he moved to Milan when we were in 7th grade.''

''That's when you came to my middle school,'' I said.

''Yeah. And now he's back. I can't wait till you all meet him. Stiff's great, I'm sure you'll like him.''

Virginia looked at him from the corner of her eye. ''Does he also make a scene in public? Because if he's like you, I'm not interested.''

''Like me?''

''Yes, like you.''

He threw the cigarette on the ground and crossed his arms. ''Well, what is it then, that you don't like about me?''

She didn't say anything, so he repeated the question. ''What is it, Virgi? Do I drink too much, smoke too much, always say the fucking truth instead of pretending everything is perfect?''

Her eyes flashed. ''Is that what you think of me? That I judge you for all those things? Well, I think it's the opposite.''

''Guys,'' I said, but they didn't let me speak.

''Because you know what?'' she carried on. ''Everyone's been judging me my whole life. I'm sorry if I don't like parties and I'm sorry if I don't want to get wasted and pass out in the middle of the street. But I'm not sorry for wanting a future. I thought you understood that.''

She sighed as we looked at her in total silence. ''What did you guys even do this summer? Jumped from one party to another, bought a pack of cigarettes every day? I mean, look at you, Pit! You got held back and you're acting like nothing happened. You're wasting a year of your life and you don't even care?!''

''Oh, stop!'' Dario yelled. ''What, you're gonna point out all of our failures now? Yeah, we're a bunch of losers and your boyfriend just made you realize that, huh? Because he's so perfect and innocent, isn't he?''

''What does he have to do with any of this? God, you're not even listening.'' Virginia clapped her hands against her hips and sighed. ''I'm just worried about you. I'm just... never mind.''

It looked like she was about to leave, but then she looked at Gaia and her eyes got watery. "You know, I haven't said this yet, but I really needed you this summer. I get it that you wanted to disappear for three months and it's your mum and it's complicated, but... you could have called me, you know? At least once. There were moments when I really needed to talk to you, but there was no way to contact the unreachable Gaia Monforte."

Her voice cracked. The unreachable Gaia Monforte. I knew Gaia didn't want to be active on social media this summer because she hated small talk and she hated the majority of people that texted her on Facebook, but I didn't know this isolation also excluded her best friend. There was something in Gaia's eyes that made me think she had her own reasons and that this distance hurt her too, but without waiting for her reply, Virginia turned on her heel and walked away.

I looked at Gaia, I looked at Dario. There was something inside of me that burned so much I couldn't say a word. They didn't say anything either. We finished our cigarettes in silence, we walked up the stairs in silence, and even when they said, bye, Pit, see you later, that sounded silent too. 

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