✘ 6:59 PM ✘

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6:59 PM—somewhere between the past and the present, NJ

Fia

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WHEN THE AIR SMELLS LIKE BURNING WOOD AND SOUNDS LIKE SILENCE—YOU KNOW THAT SOMEONE GOT SHOT. Unfortunatley, that's not an unusual smell in this town. Slowly, as though I feel the need to be alert, I walk down the stairs—watching the front door steadily.

I can feel Joel's presence behind me, his clumpy boots making the steps creak. My head is reeling and I just want to turn around and get him to give me answers. But I push the feeling away and continue toward the door.

The sound of someone talking is muffled between the barrier. It's followed by an annoying, high-pitched beep. I separate the blinds of the door with my fingers, peering out at the stiff stature of a uniformed officer.

Quickly, recognizing him even from the back, I unlock the door and swing it open.

He turns around just as quickly, the familiar, baby faced boy smiling back at me. We don't say anything, he just approaches me slowly, wrapping his heavily startched sleeves around me.

"I told them I wanted to do this one," he says, and I breathe in his pine cologne, "that you would be here just like always."

I pull-back slightly, taking-in his face. His brown eyes are crinkling on the sides and dipping at the bottom. Somewhere behind all the misery and torture he's gone through, you can still see his youth.

"Well, here I am," I say, spending a few more moments in the embrace before pulling away.

He looks somewhere between startled and disheartened when he takes a step back, his gaze landing on Joel. It takes me a little while to register that they're strangers, and I quickly bounce back, grabbing Joel's arm.

"This is Fitz ... I mean officer Jillani," I say, letting go of his arm.

Fitz holds out his hand toward Joel, "nice to meet you ... uh?"

Joel doesn't hold out his hand in response. Instead he stands there, with a risen eyebrow, and a tightening jaw. "Ricky."

I feel my first genuine smile in months fall. My eyes start to close a little slower, and my heart pumps at a dangerous speed. Why does this surprise me?

My throat goes dry and I try to swallow as best I can, my hand fishing through my hair to hold it back. "So, what weapon was used?" I ask, facing Fitz again.

He starts to laugh, the slight stubble above his lip folding in half, "still killing that damn cat, aren't ya?"

I place my hands on my hips, feeling that nice smile reappear, "listen, I didn't choose curiosity, curosity chose me."

Making sure no one is watching, he looks off to the side and leans in the framing of the door. He grabs my hand, pushing me closer to him so that I'm out of view from Joel. "Pistol, male shooter, unknown, somewhere between thirty-and-forty," he whispers quickly, giving me the rundown of what they know thus far.

"Female shooter," I quickly correct.

His eyebrows knit together, his lips slightly parted, "and what makes you say that?"

I shrug my shoulders, looking over toward the abandoned Chinese Pharmacy across the street. "Just a gut feeling, I guess."

"Well, as enjoyable as this is," Joel ... Ricky or whatever, interrupts, "if everything is safe now, I'm gonna head out." Without asking us to move, he shoves his shoulders past me and steps out on to the pavement. He lifts his hand in the air, as though he knows I'm watching him leave, and waves before letting it fall against his leg.

"Fitz, I actually have to go too," I start, still watching Jean Jacket Boy leave.

"Fia," he says, his voice soft, "look at me."

I look at him, and suddenly I realize how much has really changed.

At twenty-three years of age there's already a news article stating that he'll be sheriff by the end of the month. He has all the experience in the world and all the education he needs. But he's still so young. He's too young.

"You stay safe," he starts, swinging one foot off-of-the-other as he starts to walk backwards, "or I'll never forgive myself for letting you walk away."

People change. Feelings change. New emotions arise. Old ones fade away. Sometimes you say hello. Other times you say goodbye. Life is just one big broken record begging to be put back together.

But right now I'm opening a new record. It has room for spontaneity and a world of adventure. Something I've always yearned for and never received.

"It was nice seeing you again," I start, watching his chin lift slightly into the air, "I missed you."

I turn on my heel, clutching my jacket tight around my waist, my head pointing toward the ground as I feel a piece of my past start to break off.

"Fia," he calls out and I stop in my tracks. There's silence for longer than necessary and I can almost imagine him opening his mouth getting ready to say something, and closing his eyes when he decides not to. "Say hey to Matteo for me."

I finally start to walk off, letting my feet take me where I want to go. With the distance between us, I can only see a blur of denim, and I follow it with a fervent passion to get exactly what I want.

If only I knew what it is that I want.

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f i t z (gerald) j i l l a n i

f i t z (gerald) j i l l a n i

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