His eyes stared into mine, his heart-shaped lips curling into that seductive smile as he offered a hand to me. I hesitated to take it, but I did, and it felt electrifying. It woke up the slumbering monster inside me and only a few people could do that. This guy was different, and I couldn’t stop thinking about him—to the point that he’s appearing in my dream.
We sat on a bench atop a cliff that had a perfect view of the wide, bright blue ocean. The wind was crisp amidst the sun radiating. The calming sound of ocean waves filled the air, and this was probably the most relaxed I had been in my life.
And it sucked that it was just a dream.
Turning to me, he opened his lips as if saying something. But I couldn’t hear him. The sound of waves splashing against the rock bottom of the cliff we were sitting at was becoming overbearingly loud. Furrowing my brows, I tightened my hold onto his hand.
I couldn’t read his lips.
He kept mouthing the same words over and over again, but I couldn’t hear it.
What’s he saying?
His eyes turned dark and all of a sudden, I heard a voice from the distance.
“You’re a monster.”
I shook my head, my heartbeat increasing. The temperature of the hand I was holding dropped and it’s as if I was holding a block of ice. It stung but I didn’t take my hand off him.
I didn’t want to let go.
“You’re a monster.”
No. I’m not.
“You’re a monster.”
His smile turned manically bigger, transforming into something sinister. This wasn’t the guy I was in love with.
“You’re a monster.”
I gasped out loud, clutching my chest. I could feel my heart thumping as I panted for air. I was back in the hotel room with Paolo sitting beside me, holding my other hand. He forced me to sit up as he caressed my back in comfort.
“W-what happened?” I asked. Beads of cold sweat dripped down my face, and only then did I realize I was drenched in it.
My sight focused on Paolo and he was eyeing me in worry. “You were having a bad dream,” he informed.
He hopped out of the bed and went to the fridge to grab me a bottle of water. The lampshade was on and I realized it was still dark outside. Now that I managed to calm down, I let go of my chest and heaved a sigh of relief.
It was just a dream.
“You’re a monster.”
I shut my eyes and bit my lip. It’s only a dream, Liam.
I’m not a monster.
I looked at the bottle Paolo handed me. I took it and noticed the cap was already loosely twister. I took it off and gulped the water in a second. I was surprised that I was parched like the Sahara Desert. “Thanks,” I said, giving him a small smile.
He took the empty bottle of water from me and stared right into my eyes. “What’s happening, Liam?” Paolo asked.
“What do you mean?” I asked, feigning innocence.
“It’s been a while since you last had a nightmare. What triggered you?” he asked.
I shook my head, refusing to answer. Nothing triggered me. Well, maybe that guy did. As I said, he woke something inside me that had long retired at the back of my head. But the second I laid my eyes on him, it all came back.
And I was scared.
I’m happy that I met him, but I was scared.
“It’s nothing, Paolo,” I answered, smiling at him. We both knew it was fake and I was hoping he’d let it go. But he didn’t. He continued staring at me as if he was trying to get inside my mind, I finally threw my arms in surrender and groaned. “Fine!” Paolo smirked in triumph. There’s no winning against him. He knew me too well. “Do you remember that guy?”
“That guy?” he repeated, lifting one eyebrow. He had no idea who I was talking about and it was expected. Of course, he wouldn’t know. He wasn’t there when I bumped into that guy.
That guy, huh? I really ought to know his name. I couldn’t keep calling him that guy. He’s more than that.
“There’s someone I met at the mall,” I started. I was hesitating to tell Paolo. We never had this kind of conversation, it’s always about the Torres-Shao, work, school, but never something as personal as this. I’d never ask Paolo anything related to love, and he’d do the same to me.
But it might be because the two of us had never been in a relationship before. I did hear from Rocky that Paolo had some no strings attached affairs while we’re in North Vale, but I was never interested in who he had sex with. To be honest, I was never interested in anyone until I met him.
He changed everything.
“What about him?” Paolo asked, waiting for me to continue. “Do you know him?”
“No, that’s the problem,” I said, pouting. “I don’t know him.”
“So that’s the reason why you’re having bad dreams?” Paolo summarized, sounding nonchalant. “Because of someone you don’t even know?”
I groaned. Now that I heard it out loud, it does sound ridiculous. How could this guy even affect me this much when I don’t even know a thing about him? Was it possible to be attracted to someone I only met for like seconds? No, I don’t believe in that fall-in-love-at-first-sight bullshit. That’s ludicrous. There’s no way.
“I don’t know!” I huffed, covering my eyes with my arms. I couldn’t stop thinking about him! It’s aggravating. I collapsed on the bed, sighing. “I just…he’s different,” I mumbled breathlessly.
“Don’t tell me you’re in love,” Paolo teased.
I glared at him. “Of course, not. How can I be in love?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. You sound like you’re whipped for whoever this guy is.”
“I’m not,” I snapped.
“Then explain why this guy’s been bothering you, Liam? Enough to give you nightmares,” Paolo asked sarcastically.
Turning to him, I grabbed the edge of his shirt and pulled it. “I don’t know. I’m…really confused.” Not only that, but I was also scared. What’s this guy doing to me?
“You’re a monster.”
I scowled. Never have I feared to hear those words before meeting him. I was used to people telling me how evil I was and that I’m the perfect candidate to take over the syndicate group. Because I was someone who’d never think twice about killing people who were in my way. I’d destroy anyone who tries to take what was meant for me.
But for the first time in a long time, I was genuinely scared.
Not because of my brother.
“Look,” Paolo started, “just think like this. You’ll never meet that guy again. Ever. After we go back to North Vale, you’ll surely forget him.”
Paolo’s eyes darkened. “You don’t need him. He’s just a random guy that caught your attention. Nothing more, nothing less. He’s not important.”
I bit my lip, nodding slowly. He’s right. It’s impossible to meet him again. We’d only stay here in the city for a couple more days before returning to reality.
North Vale was the prison that I belonged to and that guy, he wasn’t a part of the world I lived in.
He lived worrying about trivial things. He’d never have to fear for his life.
Indeed, we’re different.
“You’re right,” I said, forcing a smile at Paolo. “I should forget about him.”
Paolo smiled at me. “Good. You don’t need people like that. Just—” He abruptly stopped, his smile becoming crooked as the corner of his right eye twitched. “—go to sleep.”
Lying back on the bed, I didn’t let go of Paolo’s shirt until I lose consciousness. Pushing back the disappointment of not knowing the guy who could probably change my whole life, I let go of another thing I truly wanted, just like everything else in my life.
At least let me meet him one last time. Then I’d be happy.
I could feel a hand caressing my cheek. I shivered at how cold it was but remained sleeping. It’s been so long since I last slept like a baby. Now that Tyler wasn’t here with me to torment me, I could sleep quietly and peacefully.
Swatting the hand away, I moaned and buried my face in the pillow. It’s been such a long night thanks to that nightmare, and I wanted nothing else but to just sleep for the rest of the day. Was that so much to ask?
“Why are you so dense, Liam?”
I could hear Paolo’s voice hovering over me, but I didn’t have the strength to open my eyes. I was too sleepy.
Was this another dream?
Finally, I successfully woke up. Looking around the place, Paolo stood beside the bed, already dressed for the day. He wore a grey shirt and white tennis shorts. I eyed him with my face scrunched, flustered that I was woken up like this. “What?” I asked, my voice groggy and tired.
“Breakfast,” he simply said before turning his back on me.
Grumbling annoyingly, I clumsily reached out for my phone that sat on top of the night table. I grabbed it and with squinted eyes, I struggled to read what time it was.
“It’s only one,” I moaned, tossing my phone back on the table. It created a loud thud as it dropped on the floor. But I didn’t give a damn. I wanted more sleep, I deserved it.
“What do you mean it’s only one?” Paolo asked giving me that stern look that resembled his father. I cringed, knowing he wouldn’t allow me to go back to sleep. “Get up and eat your lunch,” he corrected. “And pick up your damn phone.”
I grunted. There’s really no winning against Paolo. He’s like the strict and nagging mother I never had.
“Fine,” I mumbled begrudgingly.
I stood up from the bed and picked my phone up. I quickly noticed the huge crack on the screen. “It’s broken,” I announced.
“Again?” Paolo asked exasperatedly. “How many times have you cracked your phone screen this month?”
I thought for a second, recalling all the instances where my phone either slipped out of my hands or was thrown away because as a way to release frustration. I admit I didn’t have the best attitude on taking care of my things as I was used to people doing that for me.
“Hmm, I think four times,” I answered nonchalantly.
“That many?” Paolo asked in disbelief.
“That bad?” I asked.
“You’re not a kid anymore, Liam. You can’t just keep buying things again and again just because you don’t know how to take care of your belongings,” he berated, glaring at me with furrowed brows.
“Sorry,” I muttered, pouting. “I won’t buy another one. I’ll just keep this.” Paolo’s right. It’s not practical to buy an eighty-thousand pesos worth of phone every time I break one.
I threw my phone on top of the bed and caught Paolo watching how quick it was for me to go back to my old ways after he just scolded me for it. I ignored his warning glare and went to the bathroom to pee. I didn’t bother closing the door.
“Did Tyler call?” I asked.
“No, not yet. The headmistress must have been keeping him busy,” Paolo answered.
I smiled in relief. Maria really knew how to control my psychotic older brother. After I finished emptying my bladder, I washed my hands before exiting the bathroom. “What are we going to do today?”
“What do you have in mind?” he asked.
I shrugged my shoulders. I didn’t have anything particular I wanted to do. Maybe watch a movie, go shopping, play arcade games—things that teenagers usually do. I’m positively sure normal people wouldn’t spend the rest of their free day doing all sorts of training to become stronger than ever, that’s just weird.
“So, the same thing as before?” Paolo asked, scoffing.
“Yeah, that’s the only thing we can do, right?”
“You know the boys will want to go to the club,” he informed.
Right. The club. That’s where they usually would hang out every night whenever we’re outside North Vale. “They can go.”
Paolo chuckled. “If your brother hears how lenient you are with your men, he’ll be incensed.”
“Good thing he’s not here then,” I said, grinning at him.
Unlike the other gang members who controlled and terrorized their men to make them obey, I was the opposite. I never gave a damn on what they do with their lives, as long as they come when I needed them to come. It’s one of the many reasons why Tyler was vexed with how I handle my people, but I believed that what I was doing was right. I couldn’t lead a group by threatening them. Besides, as long as I pay them money, then they’d do whatever I wanted.
Unfortunately, my older brother doesn’t approve of that. And for some dumb reason, I could understand why. Just hearing Tyler’s name would bring a shiver down anyone’s spine, that’s how terrifying he was. He knew how to hurt people, not only physically, but mentally as well. And f*cking up people psychologically was one of the evilest things a person could do to another. And I know that from personal experience.
“Then, I’ll accompany you to the mall,” Paolo said, smiling at me. “I can’t let you off my sight. You’ll get lost again.”
It irked me that I’m useless when left alone. I wouldn’t have been like this if my family didn’t allow me to live without people who were basically doing everything for me.
“I can go alone, you know,” I said after putting a jacket on. I was never comfortable letting people see the tattoos on my arms. “I’m not a kid.”
“Yeah, you’re not. But you’re hopeless alone,” Paolo retorted.
We both got out of the bedroom and I immediately smelled something delicious lingering in the air. The table was filled with my favorite food—pork sinigang (1), sisig (2), and pancit miki bihon (3). “I thought it’s breakfast,” I said, gaping at what’s presented in front of me.
“You were sleeping during breakfast,” Paolo said.
“These are all my favorites,” I said, looking at him in awe. He stared at me and when I saw that devious smirk, the smile on my face disappeared. “What? Did I do something wrong to be treated like this?” Was Tyler planning on skinning me alive and this was some sort of last meal for me?
“Of course not, you’re thinking too much. Just sit down.”
I did what I was told and was ready to devour everything when Paolo said, “your father wants to meet you.”
I froze. It felt like I was punched in the gut. “What?” I asked, almost dropping the spoon. “Why?”
Paolo started eating. “Because you’re here in Manila. And he wants to see you. It’s been a while since you last saw your father, right?” he explained.
I thought I’d be able to spend the rest of my short break without seeing my father. I finished Tyler’s job without fail, so why was this my reward?
“What time?” I asked. I could hear the disappointment in my voice, and so did Paolo.
He eyed me in pity. “Six. He’ll join you for dinner.”
Ugh, how I wish I could just stay at Kenneth’s place until I go back to North Vale. “Fine,” I said.
“It’s just dinner. You can endure an hour with your dad, right?”
I bit my lip. “Yeah.” I endured half of my childhood with him. One hour would be nothing.
After the dismal lunch that I thought I’d enjoy, Paolo and I readied ourselves to go out. It was already three in the afternoon and I had three more hours to enjoy life before my dad ruins it.
Was going to a mall supposed to be this exciting? Or I’m just really…sheltered that I didn’t really know how to have fun. I always have this kind of perception that people who were the same age as me go to the mall to have fun.
It’s normal, right?
Half an hour of getting ready and Paolo and I were on our way to the elevator. I was staring at my phone, agitated that it had a thick line of the crack across the screen. I did say I wouldn’t buy another one, but it’s bugging me.
Nevertheless, I put my phone back in my pocket, choosing to ignore the petty dilemma I had. It’s better to enjoy this day without burying my self on Facebook, browsing social media only to envy people with their normal lives.
The door to Martinez and Rocky’s room swung open. Martinez gasped out loud when he saw us. I raised a brow at him, amused at his reaction. “What?” I asked.
His face went pale for a second before he masked it with that obnoxiously loud laugh of his. “Hi, boss! Good morning, I mean good afternoon! Isn’t it such a nice day, huh?”
Paolo narrowed his eyes at him. “What are you up to now, Martinez?”
“Nothing!” he yelled, grinning at us. “I’m just…really happy right now!”
Rocky shoved him from the door, smiling at us. “Hey, guys,” he greeted. “Rem here is going to—”
Martinez leaped to clasp his hand on Rocky’s mouth, stopping him from blurting out whatever stupid shit he had planned today. “No! We’re not doing anything! We’re just going to pick up some girls to f*ck! That’s all!”
I grimaced, disgusted. “Please don’t talk like that,” I warned, and Martinez just beamed at me like the child that he was.
So immature, but then again, who am I to talk about maturity?
“We’re just going to have fun! It’s our vacation!”
Rocky looked at me and rolled his eyes at what Martinez was saying. “Let’s just go before I shoot you in the head, idiot.”
Closing the door behind them, Rocky and Martinez walked with us to the elevator. “So, where are you guys going?” Rocky asked.
He was one of the few people I could have a proper conversation with. The others were just…weirdos. But I couldn’t blame them, all students in North Vale were weirdos.
“The boss wants to go to the mall,” Paolo answered, ruffling my hair like I was a little kid.
I pouted at him, swatting his hand away. “I just want to watch a movie.”
Rocky smiled at me. “That’s nice. You’re actually doing something for yourself, boss,” he said. “You’ve been locked up with your brother for a week in that room, right?”
Flashes of Tyler beating me up to a pulp just because I protected two guys who f*cked up a drug deal with Keanne’s gang. It was a torture that brought me close to that forbidden edge, but I managed to hold on. The wounds were still fresh from that lovely brotherly bonding I shared with Tyler, but over the years of being abused, being shot wouldn’t even make me flinch.
“Yeah,” I said, laughing uncomfortably at the memories. “You’re right.”
We stepped inside the elevator, waiting for the lift to bring us to the basement parking lot. Before parting ways, Paolo pulled the back of Martinez’ shirt, causing him to choke. “Ow, what gives?!”
“Don’t cause trouble or I swear to God I’m going to let the president cut your d*ck off, Martinez.”
He laughed nervously. “Oh, don’t worry about me, Paolo! It’s not like I’m planning anything dangerous!”
Seeing that lunatic spark in his eyes, I highly doubt it.
1. Pork Sinigang - Sinigang is a Filipino soup or stew characterized by its sour and savory taste. It is most often associated with tamarind, although it can use other sour fruits and leaves as the souring agent. It is one of the more popular dishes in Filipino cuisine.
2. Sisig - Sisig is a Kapampangan dish made from parts of pig head and chicken liver, usually seasoned with calamansi, onions, and chili peppers. Sisig was first mentioned in a Kapampangan dictionary in the 17th century meaning “to snack on something sour” and “salad”.
3. Pancit Miki Bihon - Miki Bihon is a Filipino stir-fried noodle dish made with fresh egg noodles, rice noodles, chicken, shrimp, fish balls, and vegetables.
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