✘ 6:30 PM ✘

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6:30 PMrecord on replay used record store, upstairs, NJ

1990

Fia

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I SPEND MY LIFE LOOKING OUT A WINDOW. Joel Barner spends his life looking through a window.

They both technically mean the same thing, but it's all about perspective.

Right now, we're both looking out a window.

The upstairs to 'Record on Replay,' smells like mold, and the heating unit makes the air unbearable. Cardboard boxes are stacked one-on-top-of-the-other until they're nearly touching the ceiling, and covering almost every inch of the cramped attic space. There's just enough room for the two of us to sit and stare out the window.

Cobwebs hang from the paneled glass, looking more dead than the ancient flies trapped in them. Frost seeps in through the corners, giving us fair warning that winter is far from being over. Something about the whole situation is peaceful, and I can feel my heart rate finally calm down.

"You know," he starts, breaking the silence I yearned for so badly, "I've been thinking about you not believing in fate." Like I've seen him do so many times before, he reaches his fingers into his boot and pulls out a cigarette. "It's kind of sad," he adds, digging in his pocket for his lighter.

"Fate is non-absolute," I defend simply.

He doesn't say anything more, he doesn't agree, or disagree. Instead, he entertains himself by smoking. It's not long for the silence to fill my head-space again instead of the ridiculous calculating that usually does.

"We didn't think much of it. The boys and me I mean. It was a place to sleep and get a decent meal," he interrupts, his speech rather fast and anxiety-ridden.

I turn to face him, "what are you talking about?"

He takes a long draw, his eyes on me the whole time. When he's finished he gestures lazily to the small ink mark on his collarbone, "you wanted to know about this thing, didn't you?"

"Well, don't start there," I say, feeling a smile creep its way on to my face, "what boys?"

A slight scoff escapes his growing smirk, "my street friends basically." He lifts the cigarette back to his lips, his eyes looking up toward the ceiling as though he's thinking. "Mason, Sebby, Wyatt, Clayton, and me."

"And what didn't you think much of?" I rush him, an excited sensation tumbling around in my chest.

"Jeez, calm down a bit will ya?" he suggests, still smiling.

He waits a moment before pushing his lips into a flat line, leaning a little closer toward me. There's more than just smoke on his breath and something about it makes me feel nostalgic. His lips are dry and cracking, but they're still pink and plump.

"You have to swear you won't let this shit out, okay?" his eyes stick to mine and it's like he's been staring at them for years. I simply nod my head, letting myself sink away from my usually cautious emotions for just a split second.

"We were out one night, smokin' and drinkin'. You know? And some guy came up to us. None of us boys could really make out his face in the dark. Either that or we were too damn drunk." He takes another drag, his jaw setting into place like the gears of a clock, "he hands us this paper with an address and tells us that we can get a meal and a bed if we go."

"And?" I ask, trying to get him to move along quicker.

"And ... I've paid for one cassette now," he says, my eyebrows crinkling toward my eyelids, "I'll continue the story over the next twenty-five days in return for your big mouth staying shut until then."

Unsatisfied, I cross my arms over my chest. Joel Barner is a lot of things. He's a liar and a cheat. But, he's a good liar and a good cheat.

"Those weren't my terms," I start, "I'll call the cops if you don't tell me everything I want to know."

"And these are my terms," he snaps back, "and no you won't."

It's like fighting with myself and I suddenly realize how hard I must be to talk to. If I wasn't trying to win this I would start laughing. I would look him straight and the eye and say 'well, Joel Barner, soak this moment in because you've just met your match.' But that would be stupid because, like I said, I want to win whatever the hell this is.

And that's when I think about everything that's on the line. Am I willing to throw everything away over twenty-five cassettes, twenty-five days, and twenty-five times I'll have to look at Joel Barner?

Am I willing to throw everything away when the thing I'm throwing away is for Matteo?

"I see your terms and I raise them one question," I say, his smirk growing once again.

"Go ahead," he says, leaning even closer.

There's only one thing I've wanted to desperately say to the boy in front of me. For months he's come to invade on my life and a part of me always felt like there was a silent speech between us. That we both knew what was going on without knowing fully what was going on. For those months I played out in my head the thoughts I thought he was thinking. Or the life he was leaving the shop to emerge himself back to. He's become my story in progress and with stories come questions. But, I only ever had one.

I hold my breath and steady my gaze.

"Why did you steal them?" I ask, expecting to feel some kind of weight lifted off of my shoulders.

He's like a Grecian statue. Beautiful and silent with eyes that could kill if they wanted. Though I'm sure his hands are already guilty of that. But, like a Grecian statue, he's based off of a myth told by many far-and-wide.

I don't want to fall for the myth.

That's why I'm trying hard to see a hint of any change.

There's nothing.

He licks his lips and leans back, "why didn't you stop me?"

Thats when, from the upstairs of Record on Replay, with a loud banging noise downstairs ... I fell in love with the idea of hating someone so much, I start to like them.

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