Italy

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Aside from Augustus and myself, the park was empty. Broad trees, Aptos School, and a row of pretty houses ringed the field. My arms and legs spread out limply on the dry grass. A MUNI bus rumbled by below on Ocean Avenue, its cables screeching against the wires.

"Our heads are kissing," Augustus commented. The top of Augustus's head nested scalp-to-scalp against mine. My hair spread out beneath it, tufts of his own mingling. Our hair pleasantly tickled my neck. I couldn't see him, but I had other senses.

"No, they're not." I stared up at a stain-shaped cloud.

"Yes, they are," he insisted in his manly-boyish voice. "They are in love. They've just come back from that lovely cruise on the Nile."

I shifted slightly, folding my hands over my stomach. I smiled. "What are their names?"

"Fredrick and Amelia. Has a certain ring to it."

Augustus's real name wasn't Augustus; his birth certificate read Daniel Gordon. Two years ago, Daniel Gordon was treated to a series of independent films with his hipster cousin, Joanna, and, as he later recalled it, he couldn't look at himself the same. His bed, his dresser, his carpet, his name: it all had to go. He felt that Augustus was a fitting name, seeing as though he himself aspired to one day have a salad dressing named after him. He didn't sleep in his room anymore. Sometimes he stayed over at my house, in the nook he had claimed in my room, but mostly he crashed with Joanna. They were friends.

Augustus nudged my head with his. "Leanne."

"Hmm?" I asked absently.

"What's your second born's name going to be?"

"Is it a boy or a girl?"

"Girl."

"But you already know that one."

"Winona, you mean?"

"What? I like that name."

Footsteps crushed manicured grass. I raised my head, searching for the source of the noise. A thin blonde boy, in a big shirt and corduroys was walking towards the playground. I sat up, surprised, when I recognized my friend Louis. He hadn't been in school lately—I'd been mildly worried, and people were talking. A rumor was going around that a mysterious woman from Italy had been corresponding with him for several months, and she'd finally come to whisk him away to a rustic mansion in Tuscany. I stood up, brushed off my pants, and walked over to meet him. But as he neared us, his face came into clearer focus. His usually chipper blue eyes were now full of hurt, eyebrows down low and crunched together. There were no tear stains. His hands were fidgeting.

"Louis!" I called out, concerned. He stopped, twisted his head to look over his shoulder. I jogged over the rest of the distance between us.

"Louis, what's the matter? Louis," I repeated, reaching out to touch him. He flinched away, but then let my hand rest, palm flat, against his arm.

"Something…happened."

"What? What happened?"

He shook my hand from his arm, looking away. "Somebody shot at our house last week," he said. "It went through the window—shattered it everywhere. See?" He brandished his wrist, slashed with thin, ragged cuts. I blinked. "It—the bullet—hit her in the back. She died, she's dead. There was too much blood."

He stopped talking, staring down at his twitching wrist, which was beginning to bleed again. I curled my hand around his forearm, squeezed once, then let go, letting my arm swing to my side. Suddenly he bent, torso twisting away, hands pushing back his hair as a lumpy stream of puke splattered to the asphalt. He gagged a few times, but only bile and spit joined the mess on the ground. I patted his back and he started to cry, vomit dripping pitifully from his lips. The smell was ugly; it reminded me of white porcelain in my face on long sick days.

I breathed through my mouth as he retched.
















"It was over in five minutes."

The three of us were sprawled in the grass. The sunset was starting to drain by now, the sky near the ocean darkening.

"That's horrible," I said to my hands, folded awkwardly in my lap.

Louis shrugged, looking at the sky vaguely. "I didn't even realize what had happened until Jeanie started screaming. I mean, I saw her lying there, with the blood. But I couldn't register it." He paused. His eyes were a dull pink, still wet. His shirt was stained and smelled sour. "My dad's been going crazy lately. All he's been able to do is crawl to the bathroom and puke all day. He's getting real skinny. Jeanie's been forcing him to eat… It's hard."

I didn't know what to say. I looked at Augustus, who was lying flat on his stomach, cheek resting on his folded hands. His elbows were bent, and if I were to look at him from above, his arms and his head would look like an eye. His own eyes were closed, his eyebrows drawn. It was silent.

Louis stood and stretched, jaw tight and muscles rigid.

"Where you going?" Augustus asked from the ground, eyelashes fluttering as he strained to look up. He rolled over, onto his back, and the hem of his shirt rode up a bit, exposing a strip of his pale stomach.

Louis shrugged. "7-eleven. Then home."

"You sure?" I asked, pushing my heels beneath me, wobbling as I stood. Louis turned away from me, pacing. "Maybe we could go with you? You seem a little upset. I have some money, I could get you a Slurpee or something. I think it'd be better if—"

"What do you think?" he snapped, suddenly in my face. "You know, f*** you! What, you think I'm gonna get on the next train to the bridge? Think I'm gonna take a dip in the bay, do you? Go for a swim? God dammit, Leanne!" He pushed two fists through his hair, walking slowly away. "It's been a week! More than a week! A ten-day week, and I haven't done it yet! So what makes you think I'll do it now!" His voice had risen to a hysterical shouting. He turned around, looking directly at me. He was crying again, eyes squinting. "F*** you! All I wanted was some quiet and you came barging in, asking all your stupid questions and giving me all your stupid pity!"

I just stared at him, listening to my heart pinch my eardrums.

"You're so stupid," he whispered. "You have no idea what it feels like—"

"Leave her alone!" Augustus shouted. He was sitting up now, legs folded beneath him. "Don't be a jackass. She was only trying to help."

Louis turned on his heel and began to run.

"Hey!" Augustus called after him. "Hey, don't do anything stupid!"

Louis flipped him the bird over his shoulder, skipping down the stairs and out of sight.

There was a minute or two of tense silence. I stooped and grabbed my bag, slinging it over my shoulder. I wanted to go home and curl up in a hot bath and cry.

"Well, see you on Monday," I mumbled, eyes stinging. As I turned to leave, he grabbed my ankle. I turned half-way.

"Don't worry about him," he said. "Louis… He's in a bad place right now."

"You think I don't know that?"

He shrugged, letting go of my ankle. "So I'll see you Monday, then."

I hesitated before turning around again. "Yeah. See you."

It got dark as I walked. I was waiting for a light to turn green when it occurred to me that I hated Louis, not because of his outburst, but because he was here, and not in Italy.





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