CHAPTER 35: ENDING
“Are you sure you packed everything?” Valery asked for the nth time.
We were inside the van while Maxim drove us to the airport. Raul sat beside him, his body turned around to watch Valery, Alyona and I bicker at the back seat. Isaac was quietly sitting beside me.
“Yes, Val, I checked it and I’m sure I packed everything I need,” I said, forcing a smile at her.
“I’m just making sure!” she defended herself for being a worrywart.
I turned to Maxim who was obviously annoyed at how noisy we were. Valery requested for her dad to bring us to the airport because for some reason no one was available in the Orlov family to drive me there. I know dad was still angry at me for going against his will but to be honest, I just didn’t care anymore.
I’m really excited to go to New York and see my photo in an exhibition. I wanted to meet the judges and ask them why they chose my photo out of all the thousands of people who submitted theirs. I was giddy and I just felt so alive right now. I wanted to forget for a minute about my responsibility, who I really was and my deal with dad.
Right now, I’m Drew Orlov. An aspiring photographer.
Not an heir of a Mafia group.
I grinned to myself. Alyona and Valery saw it and they giggled.
“Don’t forget to take photos, okay?! I’ll be waiting your posts in Instagram,” Valery said.
We arrived at the airport early than our scheduled flight. The Orlov provided Isaac and Raul’s airfare. They also booked the same hotel ViewFrame provided for the winners of their contests.
I sat on the waiting area with Valery and Alyona who kept taking pictures of us. Maxim was smoking in the smoking section and he was accompanied by Isaac.
“Uh, I just need to talk to Maxim,”I said, excusing myself to the girls.
“Sure!” Valery chirped.
I stood up, leaving Alyona and Valery talking to each other about the exhibition and how lucky I was to be chosen as the winner. I approached Maxim and Isaac and the two of them stopped to look at me.
Maxim blew the smoke out of his mouth, raising a questioning brow at me.
“What?” he asked.
I sheepishly rubbed my arm.
“I can’t thank you enough for what you did, Maxim,” I said, shyly smiling at him.
Everything he had done for Georgy, keeping him alive and safe, even going as far as rehabilitating him which was a lot of work, Maxim and Alexandra were two of the best people I’ve met so far.
Isaac smiled, turning his back against us.
“Reminds me of someone,” he mumbled.
I blinked at him and asked, “what?”
“Nothing,” Isaac replied, keeping his poker face in tact.
Maxim put out his cigarette on the ashtray provided by the airport.
“You’re Valery and Oleg’s friend and Clark as well,” he said, finally pulling a smile.
It was refreshing to see that face since he was always grumpy and scowling whenever I see him. Out of the blue, his smile turned upside down while his eyes widened in realization.
“Wait, you’re going where again?” he asked.
“Huh? Oh, I’m going to New York,” I answered.
Maxim furrowed his brows and Isaac stared at him.
“What? What is it?”
I was getting worried by their reactions but before I could, we were being called to board the plane. I looked back at Maxim and he was back to being stoic.
“Good luck,” he said, smirking at me.
I was freaked out by his smile. What does it mean?
Going to the boarding gate, I bid farewell to Valery, Alyona and Maxim who went to see me get on the plane. Isaac offered to get my suitcase but I rejected him. I’m fully capable of carrying my stuff.
After boarding the plane, Isaac and Raul let me sit on the window seat. I thanked them and sat on the chair. I couldn’t compare it to the plane Clark and I used to go to Italy but I’m more than thankful that ViewFrame was sponsoring my ticket. The important thing was that I’m going to New York and let people see my capability of being a good photographer.
I clutched the DSRL hanging on my neck. I took it and decided to take a picture of Isaac and Raul. Isaac didn’t look at the camera but Raul did, grinning brightly and making a peace sign.
I was thrilled. No, more than thrilled. This was everything. I’m so happy Alyona and Valery persuaded me in joining the ViewFrame contest. Dad didn’t like anything related to photography and it saddened me that my own father doesn’t care about my passion. But now, I could finally meet other people who were into photography. Just thinking of having a conversation about what we love doing in live, it’s almost so surreal.
I smiled to myself while looking out the window.
I just wish Clark was here with me.
The flight took so long. We stopped over midway and Isaac, Raul and I exited the plane to stretch our legs and eat some food. An hour later, we boarded the plane and took off to New York, feeling refreshed. I took a lot of pictures of the view of the outside, the infinite and bright blue color of the sky and slept most of the time. By the time we arrived in New York, it was 11 in the morning. I was extremely jetlagged. It was exhausting to fly for over ten hours. Nevertheless, I ignored the fatigue.
The service car of the hotel where we’re going to stay picked up as at the airport. We were quiet during the trip but I continued taking photos of the busy street of New York. People here looked different and to see another perspective of the world brought contentment in my heart. All my life, I had been living in an enclosed space, never having a chance to view what the world had to offer. It’s so amazing to see the other side of it and I would never get tired of taking its pictures.
Arriving at the hotel, we were guided to our room. It was a fancy hotel with courteous staff who always smile whenever they see guests. Isaac and Raul have their own room but because I was under a tight security, one of them had to stay with me in my room to guard me. Raul excused himself and told Isaac that he needed sleep. The room they were staying was beside me and it’s easy to access mine if ever something happens.
I put my bag down on the bed. The room was beyond beautiful. It had a gorgeous view of the skyscrapers in the city.
Isaac was checking the room while I lied on top of the bed, sighing in relief.
“Do you want to take a rest?” Isaac asked after getting out of the bathroom.
I nodded. As excited as I was, I’m drained from the flight. I pulled the pillow and hugged it tight. Isaac sat on the couch, staring at me.
I looked at him and said, “you can take a rest. I’ll be fine.”
“I can’t take that chance. My job is to make you safe,” he said.
There was no point debating Isaac. I let him do his duty as a bodyguard. Besides, I’m too tired to even fight with him over something petty.
I woke up and it was already dark outside. I got up, my body heavy. My sight was unfocused but a few times of blinking, I finally saw clear of the place where I was. The lights posted on the headboard of the bed was turned on, illuminating the room.
As expected, Isaac was sitting on the couch, sleeping. He looked like a statue and it was creeping me out.
I got out of the bed and stretched. My arms and back were sore and I was hungry. I put my shoes on and neared Isaac. He woke up before I could, his eyes opening wide and looking at me.
“What time is it?” was the first thing he asked.
I resisted the urge to giggle.
“I don’t know,” I said, taking my phone out and checking what time it was, “it’s seven.”
Isaac stood up, rubbing his face.
“I’ll go wake Raul up and eat dinner,” he announced, smiling tiredly at me.
“Okay. I’ll take a bath.”
After taking a warm and nice bath, I got out of the bathroom and put my clothes on. I pocketed by phone and wallet before leaving the room and checking out Isaac and Raul. I wanted to be close to Raul. I genuinely think he was one of the few people who I could be close with who’s working under the Orlov group.
I gasped out loud after opening the door. There was a man, a little taller than I am walking past my room. He stopped, hearing my surprised gasp and I was embarrassed to catch his attention.
“S-sorry,” I said, my face getting red. “I - I didn’t mean to…I’m sorry.”
He smiled at me in amusement.
“It’s fine,” he said.
The man was about to walk away but halted. Turning around, he stared at me and raised his brows like he knows me or something.
“Are you perhaps one of the winners of ViewFrame’s contest?”
I gaped at him, nodding proudly.
“Y-yes, I am!” I enthusiastically answered and I mentally slapped myself for being too excited from a simple question.
The man had a brunette hair tied in a bun, wearing brown leather coat on top of the black turtle neck shirt and pants. His skin was tanned and he had a lot of piercings in his ears. I assumed he was Asian because of his eyes but he had no accent but who am I to know, I never met nor talked to any Asian people in my life before, well other than Hiro.
He smiled at me.
“I thought so. What country are you from?”
“Oh, uh, I’m from Russia.”
The smile on his face disappeared and it was replaced by a knowing smirk. It was quickly gone as he masked it back with a grin.
“Is that so?” he said in awe.
“Are you…a winner too?” I cautiously asked.
“You can say that.”
I was confused with his answer. He perked up and took his phone out from his coat pocket. Seeing who was calling, he gave me an apologetic smile.
“I have to go. I’ll see you at the exhibition,” he said, waving a hand at me and walking away while answering the phone.
The door to Isaac and Raul’s room opened and they both came out, wearing different clothes. Raul was wearing eyeglasses and it made him look like a professional rather than a bodyguard working for the Mafia.
Isaac eyed me and asked, “were you talking to someone?”
“Yeah, he’s a participant from ViewFrame too,” I answered.
We ate dinner at the hotel. The food was delicious and the ambiance of the place was similar to what I always see in a five-star pictures posted in social media. It was a full course and as always, I took pictures of everything we ate. Majority of the people dining was from ViewFrame. I could see different people from different races sitting on their tables with what seemed like their parents or guardians.
I looked at Isaac and Raul and they were enjoying their dinner. I like to think that this was somewhat a vacation for them as well. I know Isaac had been working hard and he deserved a vacation like this.
While eating, I caught the guy who I was talking in the corridor, sitting on a few tables away from us. He was together with five or six people and they were engaged into a serious conversation. I was staring at him and wondered who he was.
He was charismatic and the way he talked, with his deep and soothing voice, I could tell he was an interesting guy.
I jolted when turn his way to look at me. I quickly averted my eyes away from him. I wasn’t sure why but he’s giving me a nostalgic feeling, as if I met him from somewhere before.
“What’s wrong?” Isaac asked, seeing me flustered.
“I-it’s nothing,” I said, grinning at him.
Isaac tried looking at what I was looking but a waiter blocked his view. He offered us some drinks but I kindly rejected his offer since I’m not good with alcohol.
After eating our desserts, the three of us went back to our hotel rooms. The nap I had this afternoon wasn’t enough and I’m still feeling tired.
We rode the elevator with a bunch of people and before it could close, someone caught the door and forced it open. I was amazed at how easy it was for the person to stop the door but maybe it’s just me who’s weak.
It was the same man who talked to me before and he was with his colleagues. They boarded the elevator and the man stood beside me. He looked at me and smiled.
“Hey, nice to see you again,” he said, smiling.
“Yeah, me too,” I said, returning his smile.
His eyes moved to where Isaac was and a smirk surfaced on his handsome face. For a second, I shuddered at how he looked at him. I think I’ve seen that kind of smile before and it greatly reminded me of Clark.
What the -- ? Am I missing Clark too much that I’m beginning to see him in other people?
“Hey,” the man called out to Isaac, “long time no see, huh?”
I turned to Isaac and I furrowed my brows, seeing his horrified face.
“What is it? What’s wrong?” I asked worriedly but Isaac quickly changed his expression.
“Nothing,” he said, forcing a smile at me.
The man scoffed beside me. The elevator door opened and we all got out in the same floor. The man let his friends go on without him and we stayed standing in front of the elevator. Raul had a questioning look but he remained silent.
I did the same.
“Still working?” the man asked, staring straight at Isaac.
Isaac hid his trembling hands inside his pockets. He couldn’t look straight at the man and I couldn’t help but ask myself why he’s looking at him as if he got resurrected from the dead.
“You know each other?” I asked Isaac.
“Yes,” the man answered for Isaac who couldn’t speak, “we were close, back in the past.
“Oh, is that so?”
Back in the past? But Isaac was affiliated with the Mafia since he was a kid. Does that mean this guy was a part of the mob?
I observed his face. He did look tough but I couldn’t sense a vibe that he’s like us. If anything, this guy looked like a person who’s working a decent job.
The man approached Isaac and whispered something in his ear. I couldn’t hear it but it brought horror to Isaac’s face.
Pulling away, the man smiled at me.
“You have a great bodyguard,” he commented and I was appalled that he knew what kind of job Isaac had.
The man eerily smiled at me.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, bye,” he said, walking away from us.
“Let’s go,” Raul said, yawning, “I’m sleepy.”
Walking back to our room, I had to ask Isaac who that man was and how he knew him.
“H-he’s,” Isaac started, his voice shaking.
“It’s nothing, boss,” he said, ruffling my hair and smiling affectionately at me, “he’s just someone I know from a long time ago.”
I woke up early in the morning, still baffled why Isaac acted that way with that man. It’s been bugging me all night.
Raul was the one who stayed in my room. He was lying down on the sofa, snoring out loud. I smiled seeing him.
Standing up, I readied myself to go to the exhibition. After I took a bath, someone knocked on the door and it immediately woke Raul up.
“Who’s there?!” he screamed only to realize that I was the one one who was in the room.
I opened the door and it was a older woman with bright blonde hair and red lipstick. She was wearing an I.D that says ViewFrame Staff.
“Good morning!” she greeted while handing me a pamphlet, “I’m Meryll from ViewFrame. This is the schedule of activities for the exhibition.”
“Oh, thanks,” I said, smiling at her.
“The hall will open at 10 but participants are asked to go in early,” Merlly informed.
She bid goodbye and I closed the door, flipping through the pamphlet. There were a lot of activities and seminars that’s going to happen during the one week exhibition and for a moment I forgot all about that man and Isaac.
I was excited to go to the exhibition.It’s going to be held in a separate activity center just across the street of where the hotel was. Isaac and Raul came with me and I quickly noticed Isaac was back to normal. I guess that man wasn’t as important to him because he quickly got over their sudden meeting yesterday.
A staff working for ViewFrame guided us inside the hall. There was a woman sitting behind the counter, welcoming the winners of the contests. I approached her and said my name.
“Hi, I’m Drew Orlov from Moscow,” I said, smiling curtly at her.
She typed in her laptop while the one beside her browsed the I.D’s laid on the table. After finding my I.D., she gave it to me.
“Here’s your pass,” she said, “you can go in ahead and view the photos.”
Raul and Isaac followed me inside. There were other people who were wearing their I.D.’s hanging around their neck.
I walked around and was amazed at the photos taken by the other winners. They all have different perspective of the world and I got sucked in the instant I saw their pictures hanged in a frame. There was a plaque attached below the frame and I read each and every of their names.
I faced Isaac and Raul who kept following me. I smiled at them.
“Can you…at least leave me for a second…?” I pleaded, “I’m going to be here, I’m not going to leave, please I just want to -- ”
“Why? Are you sick with us, boss?!” Raul dramatically asked.
I quickly rebuked his accusation.
“O-of course not!”
“We’ll be here. Call us if something happens,” he said.
I grinned at him, thankful that he understood that I just wanted to be a normal person without bodyguards following me around.
When Isaac and Raul left, I continued roaming the place. I said hi to the people who also won the competition and I even talked to some of them who were so into photography.
I stopped when I finally saw the photo I took that made it possible for me to win.
I thought my heart stopped beating for a second. I was breathless.
Seeing people standing in front of the photo I took, it was…breathtaking.
I quickly took a photo of them with my phone. After sending it to Valery and Alyona, I made my way to my photo and admired it.
I was embarrassed but I poured my heart and soul into this photo.
The only photo I took of Clark. It was a stolen picture back when we were at the caves filled with glowworms. It created an illusion that he was in a place close to the stars. His eyes sparkled with the lights, giving an ethereal feeling and I fell in love with him even more.
I couldn’t take my eyes off of the picture.
“You must really love him.”
I gasped, hearing someone talking beside me. I looked at the person and it was the man I kept meeting yesterday.
“W-what?” I asked.
He cocked his head at the picture.
“You took this photo, right?”
“Y-yes, I did,” I shyly answered.
“It’s interesting how you see my son this way.”
My heart skipped a beat and I began feeling cold all of a sudden. I looked at the man with wide eyes and he was still smiling.
The man grinned at me, reaching his arm to shake my hand.
“Sorry, I haven’t introduced myself yet,” he said, chuckling in amusement.
I didn’t know what kind of face I was making.
I blanked out in a second and I felt I would faint any minute.
This man…he’s --
“I’m Lucas Roman. Nice to meet you.”
END OF BOOK 1