Paolo’s reaction when I told him I was sick was both creepy and amusing. He was shocked, bombarding me with questions—if what I eat in the ramen store was spoiled, did I eat something bad before that dinner, should he take me to the hospital, I had to calm him down before he could overreact and contact everyone in the Torres-Shao to take care of me.
We went to Starbucks and he ordered a coffee for me while I sit down and think about that guy—the guy I just met that made me like this. I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I kept imagining how he looked at me with those soft yet intense eyes of his as if he could see right through me. It scared me but at the same time, I felt an electrifying jolt that woke something inside me, something I thought didn’t exist anymore after being exposed to all the outrageous things Tyler showed and made me do.
I wanted to know his name.
How old he was.
What school he goes to.
Does he play sports?
There were so many things I wanted to ask him. It’s the first time I was this interested in someone. I never knew I could be this curious about someone’s personality and life, and I barely even talked to him.
“Hey.” I looked at Paolo, waking up from my thoughts about that guy. “Are you sure you’re okay, boss?”
“Yes,” I answered. I sounded like I wasn’t sure, and Paolo noticed it. I wouldn’t blame him. I too thought my reply was dubious.
“Are you sure you don’t want to go to the hospital?” he asked. He sat down on the chair across from me, putting the drinks down on the table. “Does your stomach hurt?”
It was a mistake to tell Paolo that I was sick. He tends to overreact everything about me. As my right-hand, bodyguard, guardian and best friend, Paolo’s attachment to me was understandable. We were always together back when we were still kids and he knew everything that happened to me when I was still living in the Torres-Shao house. I appreciate his concern, but his overprotectiveness was sometimes troublesome. Paolo would go through great lengths just to make sure I was alright.
One of the reasons he might be like this was because of my brother, Tyler. Paolo often reports to him about my activities, overseeing every movement I do to ensure the family’s security. Tyler wanted me to act as if I was dignitary—usually telling me that my actions reflect the family’s image. Dad already told me that he wanted me to take over the family, and as the youngest, I was confused about why he chose me. My other brothers didn’t even question his decision, even if they were the ones who had the most right to lead the Torres-Shao group.
But of course, I couldn’t argue with my father’s decision. If he wanted me to become the leader, so be it. His words were infallible and no one around him could go against his orders.
That’s just how lives were.
And Paolo was a part of it. He respected my father, and if he tells him to take a bullet for me, Paolo would do it in instant. He was trained to become the perfect bodyguard, following the Torres-Shao’s words similar to how his father was to my dad.
It hurt to see him get brainwashed by my family, but I couldn’t do anything about it. I was a part of my father’s chess pieces, and he had the complete authority to move me anywhere he wanted.
Just like a toy.
“I’m fine,” I said, giving him a slight smile. “I’m just tired.”
“It’s been so long since we last went out, right?” Paolo commented. I watched him put the straw in my drink, sliding the cup in my direction. “The city will tire you out.”
“The long car ride was the thing that exhausted me,” I retorted. Almost eight hours of travel from North Vale to Manila—and the fact that Martinez was with us, constantly blabbering his mouth while the rest of us begged for sleep, it was difficult.
I sipped my iced coffee, eyeing Paolo who took his phone out and answered whoever was calling him.
“What?” he asked, his voice turning cold all of a sudden.
Paolo was always caring and considerate of me, but his attitude changes whenever he’s dealing with other people. He’s often known as dull and strict, following me everywhere I go and guarding me like a loyal dog. I had to get used to Paolo’s presence and sometimes, I’d hate how I couldn’t even have my privacy because of him. But after a long time of being together, I grew dependable on him. He knew everything about me, my likes and dislikes, my favorite food, anything there was to know about myself.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t apply that same kindness to other people. He’d look at them like they were pieces of trash, disregarding them as if everyone around him was expendable. But like I said, it’s hard to blame Paolo. That’s how his father and my dad raised him.
I inwardly sighed.
“Just tell him to go back as soon as possible. We’re about to leave.” I raised a brow at what Paolo said. He put his phone down and grunted. “Rocky called. He said Martinez refused to go back.”
“What? Why?” I asked.
He shrugged his shoulders. “He said he met up with the girl he wanted to f*ck,” he said. The girls sitting at the table beside us glanced at him, a little bit shocked with his vulgarity. Paolo never cared about what people say, he was straight-forward with his words.
“Charming,” I commented quietly. “Let him be. We can still stay here for a while.”
Maria did say we’re allowed to spend the rest of the week in Manila. It’s not every day we’re allowed to stay out of North Vale. Being cooped up in that place was stifling. Yes, I’d rather choose it than to stay back home, but being under Tyler’s supervision felt like I didn’t really leave the house.
It’s still the same.
“Are you planning on going back home?” Paolo asked.
“No,” I instantly answered. “Dad didn’t say I can go home. We’ll just stay at the hotel.”
After finishing our coffee, the rest of the group I brought from my gang arrived in Starbucks. They assembled chairs around the table we’re currently sitting at, stealing everyone’s attention in the café.
Four of my boys wore thick jackets, helping them to hide the bodacious tattoos inked on their skin. It’s not peculiar for students in North Vale to have tattoos covering their bodies as it was proof that they belonged to certain gangs, helping them to survive the harsh world of the infamous reformation school.
I could see the two women who stayed even after they finished drinking their frappes stared at us in awe. Ignoring them, I turned to Rocky. “Where’s Martinez?” I asked.
Rocky was closest to him, and unlike the rest of the gang, he was the only one who could tolerate Martinez’ senseless behavior. But maybe it’s because Rocky’s family owed their life to the Martinez thus why he’s enduring the son’s stupidity. Mr. Martinez might be a perverted old man, but he knew how to make his men faithful to his family.
He was a tall, burly guy—too big for someone who’s only seventeen years old. His dyed silver hair contrasted with his dark skin and sharp features. Rocky looked at me before replying, “he’s still on his date, boss.”
Paolo rolled his eyes. “I told you to get him back, didn’t I?” he asked.
Rocky groaned. “I know but he doesn’t want to.” Typical Martinez. Like father like son.
Taking out my wallet, I let Rocky take my card. “Buy anything you want. We’ll wait for Martinez.”
The four of them hid their smiles. “Thanks, boss,” he mumbled. They stood up and went to the counter to buy their drinks.
“Should I call Martinez?” Paolo asked.
“No, I’ll do it.” I doubt even Paolo could make him come back. Pressing his number, I checked my wristwatch. It’s half-past nine. The mall’s about to close.
It took Martinez two rings to answer my call. “Oh, hey, boss.”
“We need to go to the hotel,” I said.
“What? Right now? I want to stay, boss. Please,” he begged.
“No. You can do whatever you want tomorrow, but not right now.” I hated being strict with my men but it’s kind of my responsibility to take care of them. Besides, Martinez’ father entrusted his son to me. It’d be a problem if I take my eyes off of his stupid son.
I didn’t even bother waiting to listen to his excuses. “Get back right now,” I said through gritted teeth.
I rarely get angry. Controlling my emotions was one of the keys to keeping the monster in his lair. I perfected the art of faking my anger just to scare the people around me, just like what Tyler wanted me to do.
“Y-yes, boss,” Martinez murmured, disappointed that he couldn’t do what he wanted.
I hung up the phone, putting it back in my pocket. Paolo eyed me. “Is he going to come back?” he asked.
“Yeah, he’s going back.”
A second later, my phone vibrated. I opened it and read Martinez’ message.
I’m just going to bring the girl back.
Just to make a lasting impression.
I love you, boss!
I showed Paolo his message and he snorted, amused after reading it. “Wow, he really likes this girl, huh?”
Rocky and the others came back, putting their drinks on the table before giving me back my card. “Are they going to close the mall?” I asked.
“No, it doesn’t seem like they’re closing,” he answered, looking around the busy café.
“Good. We’ll have to wait for Martinez.”
Rocky raised a brow. “What? Is he coming back?”
“Soon,” I answered.
I tried not to fall asleep. I was exhausted and wanted nothing but a bed to lie on, but the thought of that guy I met a while ago kept interrupting my mind. It seemed like this sickness wouldn’t go away until I meet him again.
Ugh, I couldn’t wait to find out more about him.
His eyes that stole my heart, as cheesy as it sounded, it’s the only explanation that I could think of after what he had done to me. Not only did he steal my attention, but he also managed to make me curious about who and what kind of person he was.
I want to know who he is.
I hesitated to tell Paolo about my dilemma. Never did I have any interest in anyone before, not even the girls that Tyler brought to me just to seduce me, urging me to f*ck them. I did oblige just to satisfy my brother’s plans, but I don’t think I was ever attracted to any of those girls, as beautiful as they were.
But that guy, damn, that guy was different. The spark in him was unique, he was a refreshing view, and it’s as if he had a scent that kept inviting me, drawing me closer and closer. There’s something about him that seemed…alluring.
I rested my head back on the back of the chair, sighing out loud. Reb who sat closest to me glanced at my direction. “Something wrong, boss?”
I smiled at him. “No, just tired,” I replied, using the same excuse I gave to Paolo.
“What time will Martinez come back?” he asked, finishing his coffee with a few sips. They already ordered four slices of different cakes, devouring it in just a minute.
“I don’t know.” I checked my watch again and it was already ten in the evening. I wanted to get back to the hotel, take a bath, and sleep.
They laughed again while I only closed my eyes and imagined seeing that guy again in my head.
Why am I acting like an obsessed idiot over a guy I just met?
I really am sick.
After half an hour, Martinez finally came back. We all noticed the purpling bruise on his nose. Rocky eyed him in disgust. “What the f*ck happened to you, man?”
“I got wrecked,” he replied, collapsing beside Paolo. “F*ck!”
“What? Did your date do that?” Brad joked, nudging Reb with his elbow. The two of them snickered, finding Martinez’ situation funny.
“No, of course not. Her f*cking friend did it,” he answered, rolling his eyes.
“What? You had a chaperone with your date?” Rocky asked.
“Yeah, it’s f*cking annoying,” Martinez said, grunting.
“I’m impressed you didn’t beat the guy up,” Paolo said.
Martinez cringed. “I can’t. That f*cker’s strong,” he whispered.
“Oh wow, did you just admit defeat?” Reb teased.
“Shut up,” Martinez retorted. “Let’s just go. I need ice for this.”
Standing up, we all left the café and went to the parking lot. I was more than eager to come to the hotel.
It took us thirty minutes to go to the hotel. It was a five-star tower owned by one of the Torres-Shao’s partners, and they would only accommodate distinguished people in their most expensive suites. And of course, as one of the Torres-Shao members that helped this family grew their business in the country, we’re more than welcomed in the said hotel.
Paolo parked the car right in front of the hotel, handing the valet the keys before following us inside. The thirty-story building was built to appease the elites, as the very moment you step in would bring you to another world. The marble tiled floor that had intricate details, the glistening furniture that resembled the ones in marvelous castles—it’s worth the money to stay in this hotel.
It wasn’t my first time in a place like this. My father loved expensive stuff—things he could only afford. The money he earns from the Mafia, along with the other businesses he had in Asia was what fueled his materialistic way of living. He had too much to spend that he could buy the country if he wanted.
After controlling the executive office, dad’s drug business flourished, allowing him to export more drugs out of the country and distribute it all over Asia. He also supplies in other Western countries, making him one of the few syndicate leaders who had connections out of Asia. The more money he gets, the more evil he becomes.
While walking to the reception, Paolo asked, “didn’t Tyler said your brother wants to see you?”
I nodded. Kenneth, the oldest of the Torres-Shao was now the owner of North Vale. Dad let him take over the school after graduating college in the U.S. He came home a year ago, handling North Vale just like what dad wanted. Anthony, my other brother couldn’t be bothered coming back home. I heard he’s working for the Zhangs, the largest and terrifying syndicate in China. Kenneth and Tyler wouldn’t tell me why Anthony was adamant about staying in Beijing.
I reckoned he had a lover there, as he always tells me stories about how much he’s attracted to a man named Jie and would do anything to have him. My brother Anthony wasn’t always right in the head, as he probably went a little bit crazy because of our father, but if he’s happy in China, then I’m happy for him too.
Besides, the Zhangs had been close with the Torres-Shao for a long time and it might be thanks to Anthony.
Come to think of it…who’s the leader of the Zhangs anyway?
“Yeah,” I answered. After showing my face to the women in the reception, they immediately handed two sets of key cards, one for the boys, and one for Paolo and me. They called for the bellboy to guide us to our rooms. “Kenneth just got back from Bangkok.”
“So, he wants to see you because he misses you?” Paolo asked.
My brothers had their different kinds of weirdness, but one thing they had in common, they’re all overprotective of each other. And I understand why they had to act that way. Living in a house that normalizes abuse—emotional, physical, and mental, we only had one another to protect ourselves from our father.
And after learning my diagnosis, they became even more obsessed with making sure that I’d be alright. We weren’t right in the head, but I was the one that really got f*cked.
“Maybe?” I answered, smiling at Paolo. I wouldn’t lie. I missed Kenneth too. It would have been great if Anthony’s here as well.
The bellboy arrived, smiling at us before escorting us to the elevator. Finally, we arrived at our room—the presidential suite only offered for a few people. The bellboy left us after making sure we were settled in our room. It was huge for two people, but I didn’t mind. Growing up in a lavish environment, something like this was normal for me.
The view from the window was breathtaking and even Paolo who rarely lets his emotions out was amazed by it. I smiled when he saw his jaw drop for a second as he walked closer to the windows that oversee the whole city. The view at night was spectacular, the thousands of twinkling lights coming from the skyscrapers around us and the night sky that looked as if we could reach it—it’s fascinating.
The suite had two rooms, the one on the right had a king-sized bed while the other room had two queen-sized. As expected, Paolo wanted us to share the same room. We picked the one with the two beds, complete with a living room set and a sixty-inch television mounted on the wall. The curtains were drawn, offering us another perspective of the city we’re currently at.
Paolo put the bags down, immediately taking out a change of clothes for me. I gave him a playful glare. Noticing it, he asked, “what?”
“Please stop treating me like I’m still a kid,” I said.
“Old habits are hard to die,” he reasoned out, tossing me the clothes I’d be wearing for tonight. “Go take a bath.”
“And what about you?”
“I have to stand guard.”
“We’re not on the job anymore, Paolo,” I said. “Chill.”
“Can’t do that,” he replied almost too quickly.
Knowing he wouldn’t back down, I took my clothes and went to the bathroom. The soft white carpet on the floor was such a delight to walk on. Pushing the wooden oak door, I was greeted by a sight of a clean bathroom, with a white polished tub near the windows that provided another great view. It also had towels on the counter, essentials, and everything I needed to have a nice, warm bath.
Before taking my clothes off, I made sure the windows were covered. I didn’t want anyone seeing my body, as I wasn’t really proud of the scars I still carry up until this day. It wouldn’t go away whatever I do, so it’s better to just hide it.
I opted to use the bathtub instead of the shower. I was dreading to soak my body in water after this exhausting day.
I felt guilty that Paolo had to wait for me to finish. After filling the tub, I dipped into the water and stayed there for at least twenty minutes, washing my body before finishing up.
This was such a long day and yet probably the most memorable one.
I wouldn’t ever forget that moment I met him.
For the first time, I’m going to have my heartbroken knowing that there’s no way I’d ever find that guy again. We’d have to go back to North Vale again and be locked inside the premises for a long time until Tyler gives me another job.
I wanted to see him again.
I didn’t want to hope but a tiny flicker ignited inside me, and I’d hold on to that a bit longer just to keep my sanity.
Please let me see him again.
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