✘ 10:30 PM ✘

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9:45 PM—house but not a home, NJ

Matteo

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I HATE THE SMELL OF CIGARS. Therefore, I hate the smell of my dad. In all reality, I just hate my dad.

Hesitant, I stand outside of our door, staring at the little, rusty, golden plaque of the number twenty-four. Even outside in the hall I can smell the distinct smoke floating from under the crack-of-the-door.

The sound of shouting and drunken laughter echoes down the long hall, and even a baby puts its two-cents in by screaming at the top-of-its-lungs. Listening to the pathetic thing complain makes me feel a little less shitty about the place I'm about to walk into.

Holding my breath, I extend my hand and grip onto the knob. I turn it as slowly as humanly possible in hopes of dodging seeing him. Once the gap is large enough, I stick my head in, looking around the room.

Men, with hands large enough to crush my skull, cover every inch of the room. I cram myself through the door, leaning as close against the back of it and waiting for the knob to click.

Despite the loud, animal-like banter, that small click gets the entire room's attention. Their heads all snap in my direction and before I can make out the faces of any of them, they're splitting like the Red Sea to make a path leading all the way to my dad.

I'm happy to see that his frown hasn't gotten larger since I left this morning. In fact, there's a glint of something slightly more light hearted. Though, I'm sure the only thing that has to do with that is the large bottle of scotch gripped tightly in his hand.

His eighteenth cigar of the day hangs loosely from his lips, piling into the air and polluting three-fourths of Jersey.

We stare at one another for what feels like an eternity, everyone here to watch the battle of two egos. I don't have to see their faces to know that they're saying I'll be dead before I turn twenty—if not by them, then by my father.

I watch as he takes the cigar out of his mouth with his free hand.

"Let's see it, son," he croaks, a tall, slender woman slinking in by his side.

I look around at everyone while everyone looks at me. Then I look back at my father, the woman's hands tracing along the scar on his jaw.

After steadying my breathing, trying my best not to look scared, I pull down the corner of my shirt. His eyes don't move. He just takes a sip from the bottle of strong alcohol and passes it off to the woman, her long, fake nails wrapping around the piece of glass.

"All of it," he commands impatiently, the veins in his neck becoming more prominent.

I'm about to make a stupid remark when some guy next to me starts chanting 'show us the ink,' over-and-over-again. Soon, half the room is chanting along, pressuring me until I finally peel off my shirt, showing them the thing that brands me.

They all cheer and roar, some hit me on the back as though I've achieved greatness. Some guy hands me a shot, watching me with a steady eye until I drink it. I feel the liquid burn the whole way down my throat before landing in the pit of my stomach, along with the majority of my pride.

My father holds up a hand and the group goes quiet instantly, fully aware of how much more power he has than they do.

"Didn't think you had the balls, son," he states, earning a few laughs from the crowd that cheered for me just seconds before.

"I'm proud of you."

After the silence that comes becomes unbearable, the group starts to fill in the space that connects me and my father. I don't even think before squeezing myself past the sweaty men and locking myself in the bathroom.

I cover my nose with my arm almost immediately, locating the smell of alcohol-caused vomit covering the shower floor. Quickly, I turn the shower on, trying not to watch the chunks go down the drain.

Once I'm finished, I shut off the water and let my back slide down the shower door until I'm sitting on the floor. I cover my head with my hands, something I keep doing today.

"First day being a monster," I say to myself, feeling halfway insane. "How's it feel, Teo?"

I throw my hands down on the ground beside me, hitting it as hard as I can to release whatever small amount of anger I can. When that doesn't help, I get back to my feet and walk over to the sink. My hand shakes as I turn on the cold faucet, splashing the cool liquid on my face. I turn it back off, letting the water drip from my skin, and look up at the dirty mirror in front of me.

For the first time, I see the ugly lines etched-out on my skin. It covers half of my shoulder and the rest is spread out over some of my chest. The men out in that room look at the black ink and see their power. But, as I'm looking at it, I see its power over me.

"He's proud of you," I say, feeling pathetic about the effect the small amount of alcohol has on me. "He's proud of you," I continue to banter, pressing my finger on the mirror where the tattoo is.

Getting tired of seeing myself, I walk over to the bathroom door and swing it open. I lean in the doorway and look across the hall at my room. A box sits on the foot-of-my-bed, calling me over.

Slowly, I approach the box. Once I'm close enough, I look down at the marble lid and the symbol carved onto it. It's the same as my tattoo and I'm starting to feel like I can't get away from the thing. I pull on the silver latch and open it, looking down at what's inside.

A pistol.

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