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0:00 PM—at the mercy of my hands, NJ

Matteo

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SHE'S HERE.

Her face hovers inches from mine, her lips forming a warm, safe smile. My lashes fall slowly, as though they don't want to miss a single moment of looking at her. I lift my hand to brush the side of her cheek, watching her let her weight fall into it.

"You're so cold," I whisper, unbothered by the feeling.

She shushes me, placing her finger over my lips, "don't worry about me, I'm here for you right now." I feel a momentary absence when she moves her hand away and gets off the chair we're both laying on.

I prop myself up on my elbows, letting my head rest on my shoulder as I watch her start to dance around the room. She starts to giggle—the most effortless, beautiful sound that's ever graced my hearing.

"Dance with me, Teo," she says mid-spin, her arms reaching out toward me, her feet still prancing around lightly. There's no music, but she doesn't need any. She's telling a story with her body. A story I want to be a part of.

It doesn't take me long to seemingly float from my posistion and land in her embrace, my hands connecting around her waist like they're meant to be there.

She slows down to a still sway, wrapping her arms around my neck. My breathing starts to slow down even more when she plays with the very end of my hair, her petite fingers entwining themselves in the mess of curls she's always trying to fix.

"I love you," I say, the words finally slipping from my mouth. "I have always loved you, Fia," I add, leaning my forehead against hers. Her big eyes strain to look up at mine, her pupils dialating every now-and-then.

"Kiss me," she commands, moving her fingers up to my jaw, "you know you want to."

My brows knit together and I feel myself begin to sweat.

She didn't say it back.

"I ... love you," I repeat myself, waiting for a different answer. I close my eyes, clenching them as tightly as I can. Silence fills in the space between us, pushing against my chest like it's trying to break my ribs.

"I know," she answers, her arms loosening slightly from my neck, "kiss me, Teo."

I push away from her, covering my face with my hands as I let myself fall to the ground, landing on my knees. "Why are you here?" I ask, suddenly wishing she wasn't. "You want to torture me too, don't you?" By now, the saliva in my mouth has all formed together and tears stream down my face. I wipe them away the minute they fall, looking up at her.

She cups her hands on either side of my face, her eyes losing all recognizable spark. "I'm here because you're hurting," she responds vaguely.

"You're hurting me," I say, my voice reduced to a pathetic whisper.

"I know," she starts, "kiss me, Teo."

I pull her face down to mine, crashing my lips against hers. Her lips are just as cold as the rest of her. But they're soft and welcoming. They're everything I've ever dreamed.

Every feeling I've ever suppressed comes out in this one kiss. This is for every moment where I've let my gaze linger on hers just in case it's the last time I can look at her. For every tear that's fallen from her eyes when she's feeling unloved or unlovable. This is for all the times that I wanted to kiss her and never did.

Quickly, staying in the kiss at all costs, I get to my feet, pushing her back so that there's no space between us.

It's slow and beautifully unplanned, our kiss deepening as time goes on.

A voice starts to creep in on me, telling me that even though I'm enjoying this, I have to know that it's not the same for her.

She pulls away from it first, her gentle smile dissipated. Her arms fall down to her side and she stares at my chest.

I look down at the skin I wasn't aware was exposed. The tattoo stares back at me, rememinding me of the hard truth.

"You're a monster," she says, her lips folding into an angry scowl and her eyes narrowing sharply.

I'm a monster.

Quickly, she turns away, walking toward the door. I let my head sink against my chest, unable to watch her walk away too.

Everything is dark again and the weight in my chest is making it hard to breathe. I feel like I'm spinning, my hands connecting on either side of my head. My dry lips part and I begin to scream, every pitch echoing before fading.

When my eyes open again, I'm no longer in the herb pharmacy. I don't know where I am at all. I'm on my hands and knees, panting like a dog as I look around, panicked.

"Fia!" someone in the distance starts to scream at the top of their lungs. I look around for the source of the voice, or to see if Fia is here.

I get to my feet and start running, looking up-and-down the separated columns of nothingness.

It's not until I reach a dead end that I find her, lying down in a pool of blood.

Quickly, I rush over to her, the tears falling from my eyes completely uncontrollable. I lift her head into my lap, moving the blood-stained hair out of her eyes.

"No, please no," I cry out, looking down into her lifeless eyes. As though it'll help, I begin to rock her in my lap, every nerve in my body shaking.

"Who did this to you?" I ask, moving my hands away from her as I look around at the vast emptiness.

"Who the hell did this?" I shout, my voice coming back to me as soon as it leaves.

Footsteps pound on the pavement and I look up through blurry eyes.

The boy she's so fascinated by stands before me, his hands shoved in his pockets and a solemn expression on his face.

Joel Barner.

"You did," he says, nodding his head at my hands.

Slowly, I pry my gaze away from him and look down at my hands. They're gripping a pistol.

My pistol.

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