✘ 5:30 PM ✘

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5:30 PM—record on replay, used record store, NJ



I sit behind the counter on my unbalanced stool, staring out the window of the record shop. Rain drizzles to the ground, creating a hectic soundtrack to go along with the Italian shouting outside. The fan beside me is dead. So is the phone, because after it rang the first time, I unplugged it and threw it in the trash.

Behind the counter, on my unbalanced stool, is where I've been all day—staring at the empty spot where Matteo usually sells. The day went by like one of those scenes in a movie. One second it's morning, the next it's day, then it starts to rain—the clouds coming to cover the earth—and now it's evening.

Everything else is an exact replay of yesterday, including Joel Barner. He's been staring at me for the past twenty minutes. The only time he looked away was to pull a cigarette out of his boot and light it.

I play along, staring back at him as long as I have to until he gets the hint to leave. He slaps on the cheeky grin I'm already accustomed to, the cigarette hanging from his fingers.

For the first time, I'm given the opportunity to analyze his features. Quite honestly, I'm not a fan of them. His eyes would be stunning if there wasn't so much confidence swimming in them. His lips would be irresistible if the noise that came out of them wasn't so uncultured. Other than that, he's got nothing.

Slowly, he lowers the leg he had kicked back against the brick wall he's leaning on. He walks straight ahead, never taking his eyes off of me, even when crossing the busy road.

I mirror his actions, taking my time approaching the door and taking even more time locking it. He gets to the door just before the lock clicks in place, his hand wrapped around the handle.

An equally cheeky grins makes its way on my face, challenging him.

He runs his fingers through his, once again, damp hair. "Still don't believe in fate?" he shouts at the glass barrier.

"No," I shout back, wondering how this would look to someone passing by, "I still believe in stalkers though."

It's then that I notice something. In the four weeks he's been coming into the store, I can't believe I haven't seen it before. Peeking out from the collar of his jacket, is a black line, tracing close to a vein in his neck.

He continues talking, but I don't hear anything he's saying.

Subconsciously, I unlock the door and pull it open.

"What is that?" I ask, interrupting him.

His eyes flick up to mine and he follows my gaze to the small patch of ink I'm referring to.

"It's a tattoo," he replies calmly, "have you never seen one before?"

There's a joking quality to his tone, something I would usually take offense to. But, I'm too focused on that one line. Apparently my conscience is dead, because it doesn't stop me from pulling down the corner of his shirt.

On reflex, he grabs my hand and pushes it away. He's gentler about it than I would have thought, especially after seeing the tattoo identical to the one I saw last night.

"Here's the deal," I start, my voice hoarse, "I have permanent proof of every single thing you stole." He starts to interrupt me, but I cut him off again. "I won't call the police if you tell me everything attached to that tattoo."

"I can't do that," he says, his voice still calm.

Quickly, I slam the door shut again and lock it. I walk over to the phone in the trash and pull-it-out, bringing it around to the plug. Of course, the phone doesn't work because when I said I unplugged it, I meant I ripped-out its wires. I pretend to dial, pressing the phone to my ear as I watch the expression on his face turn.

"Yes, hello," I start, trying to buy myself enough time until he cracks.

Suddenly, the world slows down and a shot rings out. I lower the phone in my hand and watch as everyone outside starts to scatter out of the street, running every direction in hopes of getting home.

I look over at Joel, who after analyzing the scene from where he's at, starts banging on the door, begging me to let him in. The phone falls out of my hand as I run to open the door, letting him in before quickly locking everything-up again. I try to reach up and pull down the blinds, but I can't. His arm reaches over me and he pulls it down, hitting the windows next.

While he's doing that, I run over to the back door and do the same. Just as it locks-in-place, another shot fires. Joel holds out his hand, "come on, we're safest upstairs." I take his hand and we race up the carpeted stairs and rush through the creaky door.

Joel closes the door and leans his forehead against it.

For a while the only noise is the sound of our breathing. We look at one another with widened eyes.

He runs his fingers along the creases of his forehead, "deal."

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