✘ 8:55 PM ✘

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8:55 PM—some place in the middle of nowhere, NJ

Fia
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HE TAPS HIS FINGER ON THE STEERING WHEEL, HIS KNUCKLES TURNING WHITE AS HE GRIPS THE LEATHER. The radio doesn't work, but he doesn't need it to. His head starts to lightly nod along with the tempo his finger is making, his bouncy, curly hair almost hitting the duck-taped roof.

"Teo," I start, earning a mumbled response, "we passed my place twenty minutes ago."

I see his reflection in his window, his eyes spending more time on the things outside of it than on the road. "I know," he says, looking back in front, "I just want to make a quick stop."

Fighting my inner thoughts, I successfully let it go, focusing on the world flying by us. The sky is broody with fog washing over it like a suffocating blanket. We've passed the outskirts of the city, which is why the space in my head doesn't feel cluttered from noise. I'm not used to such quiet and a tightness in my chest is starting to resonate due to the foreign feeling.

Unfortunately, I can't stand it for long, and shift uncomfortably in my seat. I sling off my seatbelt and fold my legs up on the carpeted chair. "So, that Joel Barner is a real hottie," I pry, trying to work my way back into our previous conversation.

"Drop it, Fia," Matteo quickly responds, his voice utterly unenthused, "we're not doing this."

I try to turn and face him the best I can, "why not, Teo?"

He slams on the breaks and puts the truck in park, "because we're here."

His door painfully screams as it slowly opens, letting him out of the truck. His signature smile takes its place on his face, and he looks over at me, "come on."

I do as he says, using my foot to push the majority of my door open. By the time I get the door closed again, Matteo is next to me and gesturing his head so that I'll follow him. I look over-my-shoulder at the blinding headlights he left on before I catch up with him.

While we walk, I note the difference in smell. I can see the lining of trees, the scent of their pine soaking into my city skin and shooting up to my head, causing a strange headache. A headache different from the ones caused by smoke and cheap alcohol.

The grass beneath my feet scratches at my ankles and I can feel the bitter coldness on the blades. I let myself close my eyes for a few moments, my ears feeling open without all the traffic to distract them.

"Right here is good," he says, his voice much quieter than I'm used to. He sits down on the grass and leans back on his hands, looking more comfortable than ever.

I mimick his actions and sit on the soggy ground.

"What are we doing?" I whisper.

He holds his finger to his mouth and shushes me before lifting the same finger up at the air, "listen."

Almost on cue, a train whistle blows, rattling the ground beneath us. I stare at the tall boy, watching the giddy, childlike expression on his face. I've never seen him so happy and he's the happiest guy I know.

"It's a train," I say, trying to give him a smile that doesn't look immensely confused.

He sits up, holding his legs to his chest, "look really hard and you can see it over there."

I don't look. My eyes stay glued on him, his mouth almost open from how big his smile is. "Matteo, I don't understand," I start, getting him to peel his gaze away from the train, "it's just a train."

Slowly, he shakes his head back-and-forth, his eyes glittering brightly, even in the dim lighting. He looks over at me and points a finger back at the train, "no, that's our ticket outta here."

Once he realizes that I'm still not following, he turns to face me. He takes my hands in his and starts shaking them, trying to get something across to me, "that's a transport train and one of the carts is empty." He pauses, looking at me hopefully, still not receiving a proper reaction.

"All we have to do is jump in and get out of this hell hole," he continues, becoming out-of-breath.

"Matteo," I say, but he doesn't seem to notice.

He moves his hands up to my shoulders, his head sinking down, "Fia, you're not responding the way I hoped."

I remove his hands from my shoulders—a harder task than it should be—and back up a few inches. He looks at me like I've betrayed him, his green eyes narrowing at mine.

"How did you expect me to react, Teo?" I respond, my tone coming off a little harsher than intended. "Did you think I was going to run home and start packing?"

"Yes I did!" he shouts, causing me to flinch.

He lifts his fingers, dancing them along the creases on his forehead, a sure sign of how stressed he's feeling. "You're the one who's always talking about getting out of here," he moves both of his hands over his eyes, taking a deep breath.

I start to make my way back over to him, "Matteo, what's going on?"

When he finally removes his hands from his face, I see a different person. In such a short time, he's completely crumbled, the color in his skin dissipated. Without moving his head, he pulls down the upper left corner of his shirt, revealing an inked image I recognize immediately.

The kind of tattoo my father had.

The exact tattoo my father had.

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