✘ 7:12 PM ✘

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7:12 PM—sam's diner, NJ

Joel
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I LET HER CATCH UP TO ME. She'll never give up if I don't give in.

Her shadow dances behind mine, proving the height difference between us. I lower my head to look over at her, her eyebrows crinkling as her eyes peer at me. She gets mad when I smile at her, but I can't help it. It's hard not to smile at a small person with such a big attitude.

"What do you want?" I ask, my hands making their way into my pockets on instinct.

"I want day two," she says to no avail.

I look back at the streets unfolding under my feet and the dim sun peeking out from the corners of buildings. There's a light mist falling over the town, as though it's not hard enough to see.

"I'm sorry, I don't believe that's in our spoken contract," I continue, playing dumb.

"I didn't agree to anything," she shouts, getting easily frustrated. "You just keep making new terms, and do that smirky thing as though that's enough to convince me!"

The diner comes up on our left and I jog up to the door, yanking it open and gesturing for her to come inside. She rolls her eyes, but it doesn't take long for her to decide that her curiosity can't last much longer without some drive.

I follow in behind her, letting the door swing shut behind me. The smell of greasy burgers and vanilla shakes fills the retro mom and pops' restaurant. I watch her walk toward one of the empty tables before backtracking and going up to the counter instead.

A really fat man stands behind in the kitchen, flipping patties in the air. He reaches a hand up to his forehead when he notices her, and wipes away his sweat.

"Hey, Sam," she says, leaning down on top of a menu that's been left out. I slowly make my way behind her.

"Miss Fia," he responds to her, but he's looking at me, "how you doin?"

They keep a conversation going, but I drown them out, watching the really fat man watch me. He knows me. He doesn't know how he knows me or why he should be so nervous. But he's scared. It's not an unusual reaction.

Add little Miss Fia into the mix and people start to pull-out their pitchforks and torches.

"I'll have a coffee and some fries," she says, holding the menu she was laying on in her hands. "And he'll have a beer, no doubt, and what else?" she turns so that she's leaning on her elbow, giving me an impatient look.

"Uh, just a burger," I reply. Sam wipes his hands on a dish rag, holding his stare on me before turning away.

Fia walks and takes a seat at the closest table, wiping it down with her hand. She looks up at me with a risen eyebrow and hits the side of the table where I'm supposed to sit. I take my time making my way over, watching her grab a few sugar packets from a dish pushed against the wall.

"So," she breathes out, "am I supposed to call you Ricky ... or Joel?"

She starts to shake the packets, waiting for my expression to change.

Well she just threw a major curveball.

I scoot the chair in, the metal bottoms scraping against the tile flooring. "I haven't used that name in years," I lie, "I guess you can use it."

She starts to tear the thin paper, pushing the sides open as she peers down at the sugar, "I like Joel better."

"Don't wear it out," I respond, scoffing before turning to look out the window.

"Right, because that's appropriate in our situation," she says, almost inaudibly. "I have no idea what to do with these now," she holds up two of the opened packets by her thumb and index.

I let out a smile, "here, give them to me."

She hands them over and I dump them out on the very edge of the table. "That way when the next customer sits here," I pause handing the papers back to her, "they'll think we left them a little gift."

It takes a second for her smile to turn into a laugh, which makes me laugh, because I don't think she's done that based on something I've said before.

I cross my arms on the table, soaking in the moment, in fear that it will never happen again.

Once she gets a breath in, she fixes her hair and gives me her best poised look. "I see you have experience with this," she says, lacing her tone so that it's more of a question.

"Listen, I told you I was a street kid," I lean back in the chair, making the front legs lift off the ground, "don't say I didn't prepare you for shitty background stories."

She doesn't say anything because, before she can, Sam is bringing over the meals. He lays everything down on a tray and then quickly leaves again.

"Thanks, Sam," she shouts, and he lifts a hand in the air dismissively.

I grab the beer, "you know, if you're trying to get me drunk, you should know that I already am."

She digs into her fries, shoving three-at-a-time in her mouth. "Then you should have no problem telling me what happened after that guy came up to you and your friends," she points-out, talking with her mouth full.

I bob my head, knowing she has me cornered as much as I'm willing to be. Before starting, I take a sip from the dripping bottle and set my eyes on hers. "We went," I respond simply.

"And?" she leans forward, already getting impatient.

"And ... they all thought it was great," I say, thinking back on the boys' expressions when they first walked in. It was like some sort of trance that reached every one of them except me.

"But you didn't?" she finishes my thought.

I shake my head, placing the beer back on the table, "it was like when you know something is wrong, but everyone else is doing it."

"Did you have any idea that it was a gang?" she asks, sounding more sympathetic than she usually does.

"No, I thought it was a cult first," I start, "because they all talked with these calm, reassuring voices."

"Is there a difference," she tilts her head to the side, looking off into the distance.

"Yeah, one manipulates ... the other manipulates and kills," I say, watching her shift uncomfortably until she's looking out the window.

Her eyes go wide and I look too, her curly-headed friend standing outside the window with his fists by his side.

"I gotta go," she says.

That's when she runs out of the diner and I follow her.

Only God knows why I did that.

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