Coming back home from that tiring yet very meaningful travel to Manila, note my sarcasm, I couldn’t be happier to see my sister when we arrived at the house. I took my shoes off and didn’t even bother putting it back in the cabinet as I hurried to hug Sam who sat in the living room, watching television.
She gasped out loud, quickly pushing me back from my surprise attack. “W-what?! Isaiah?!”
“Didn’t you hear us coming?” I asked, rubbing my cheek against her. Her warmth immediately washed away my exhaustion. I wouldn’t lie, this was a stressful day. Riding the bus for hours, walking through that dense crowd, entering a new world that I dreaded to be a part of, all I wanted tonight was to eat dinner and watch movies with my little sister.
Before I go and endure the harsh reality I was forced to face.
“Isaiah, how many times do I have to tell you to put your shoes back neatly in the cabinet before entering the house?” dad berated.
I ignored him and just lied on the sofa with Sam. One good thing that I’m looking forward to was that I could finally stop hearing dad annoyingly scolding me every time I do something he didn’t like.
“What are you watching?” I asked, my eyes fixated on the screen but was too tired to even see what was showing.
Sam groaned. “The Korean drama I always watch! Shut up, Isaiah!”
I forgot to never annoy my sister whenever she watched these dramas that she’s so invested in. Sooner or later, she’d go and ask dad to send her to Korea just to meet those artists she admired so much.
“We brought dinner,” dad announced as he walked in the kitchen. “Have you taken a shower yet, Sam?”
Sam didn’t answer. I slapped her on the leg, and she whined in annoyance. “I already took one!” she yelled, her eyes focused on the television as if her life depended on it.
Fortunately, dad was too busy setting up the plates to even hear her flippant response. I only shook my head in defeat before standing up and making my way to the shower to take a bath. And here I thought my little sister who loved me so much would at least care that I’d be leaving the house soon.
Taking my clothes off, I tossed it in the laundry basket before stepping under the shower. Everything felt too surreal—as if this was just a bad dream that I couldn’t wake up from. Even after going to North Vale’s office to enroll, it still felt that the school holds some sort of evil secret. The only way to crack whatever they were hiding from society was to come and experience what it was like to study in the infamous school.
Or maybe I’m just feeling this way because of all the rumors that surrounded the impenetrable institute. No one really knows what kind of things were happening behind those walls—even the location was kept hidden. Am I the only one who could see that everything about North Vale screamed red flags?
I started to wash my hair, scrubbing my scalp as hard as I could to relieve that dull ache in my head. I wanted to beg dad that I didn’t want to go but what difference would it make? Even if I kneel in front of him, nothing could change his mind.
It was my fault to begin with.
If only I knew how to control this temper.
I froze and heaved a sigh. If only mom was here to stop this. She was the one who understood me the most. She knows why I fight and shared the same strong sense of justice. We never wanted to see people being bullied, harassed, discriminated, as we believed that we’re all equals, no matter what your status in life was.
I sighed yet again. I could think about mom for as long as I wanted but it wouldn’t change a thing. She’s gone, and I had no choice but to follow dad’s order. If he wanted me to attend North Vale, then so be it.
I finished washing the rest of my body before leaving the bathroom with a towel wrapped around my waist. My body was sluggish after spending the whole day under the scorching heat of the sun in the city. I had only been to Manila a couple of times, but it always felt like hell whenever I go there. It’s hot and humid, I wouldn’t be surprised if I pass out from heatstroke. The pollution and the vast population didn’t help the sweltering.
I quickly put on clothes—choosing a plain green shirt and jogging pants. I walked out of my room and saw the table was already set. I glared at Sam who was still on the sofa, lying lazily while watching the damn drama. She didn’t even help dad.
I smacked her on the head, and she gave out a loud a yelp. “What’s that for, ass?!”
“We’re about to eat. Stop watching,” I said.
Dad was already in the bathroom taking a brief shower before eating dinner. It’s been a long day and I’m sure he wanted nothing more but to eat and watch the late news before hitting the sack.
“Why did you hit me?!” she cried out, rubbing her sore head.
“You can’t continue being lazy. I’m going to leave soon and you’re going to be alone with dad. You can’t let him do everything and you just lie there like a lazy bitch,” I scolded. For a second, I was reminded that I acted like Dad right now.
Sam glared at me. “You just let dad fix your shoes and I’m the lazy one?!”
“I’m the older brother, you shut up!”
Before another fight breaks between us, dad had already stepped in to stop us. He glared at us. “You better stop or you two will be sleeping outside tonight,” he threatened.
Sam groaned before standing up and stomping her way to the dining room. Dad faced me and said, “Be nice to your sister.”
“You always favor her, dad,” I said, pouting. “I bet you won’t send her to North Vale to correct her attitude,” I muttered under my breath.
Dad sighed, the wrinkle in his forehead easing as he smiled at me. “I’m doing this for your sake, Isaiah. I hope you understand that.”
His resigned voice hurt me. I’m not insensitive not to know how much dad had sacrificed for me. After mom died, he refused any help from our relatives, forcing himself to raise me and Sam on his own. I could still remember it as clear as day—how they created those stupid accusations that it was my dad’s fault why mom died. If only I could punch them one by one and scream at their faces that it wasn’t anyone’s fault, I would have. But it’s one of the rare times that I could control myself, for dad’s sake.
I witnessed dad broke, helplessly crying as if he was begging God to bring mom back. Every night, I would hear his silent whimpers in his room. It was definitely hell coming back home without mom beside her, I could only cry with him.
But those days were long gone, and dad finally found his strength to stand up and continue living for us.
And here I am making his life more difficult when I already promised him that I wouldn’t cause as much trouble as I did before.
I failed, huh?
“I know,” I whispered, averting my gaze off him. Dad patted my shoulder and urged me to come and follow him to eat. Before I did, I glanced at the altar and stared at mom’s picture.
“So, you’re going to take the entrance exam?” Stephanie asked.
I stared at my lunch in despair. Dad already received a message from North Vale. I was scheduled to take the exam this weekend. I could purposely fail it, but I’m sure dad would know, and it’d cause another disappointment.
I didn’t want to see him sad again.
“Yeah,” I said.
Stephanie scowled. “Are you really going to North Vale?” she asked. “We were just joking around. I didn’t expect it’d come true.”
I nodded, agreeing with her. We kept joking that I’d end up in North Vale if I don’t stop my barbaric actions, but who’d have known that it’d come true, huh?
“You won’t be allowed to go out the school, right?” Stephanie’s scowl deepened. “And you’re not allowed to use your phone too.”
I shrugged my shoulders. I still didn’t know what kind of rules the school had, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they take the student’s phones away as it’s one way to contact the outside world. We were meant to be rehabilitated, to be taught what it’s like to be a responsible citizen. I didn’t want to compare it to a concentration camp as it’s nothing that harsh, but I couldn’t help but think that dad’s going to send me to my death.
“I’m doing this for your sake, Isaiah. I hope you understand that.”
I recalled his words and groaned. I pulled a smile at Stephanie. “I’m sure I’ll come out alive,” I said.
She tried to smile back but it came out crooked. It’s obvious she was worried about me. She did see the same video about that…thing and it probably gave her nightmares. “I’m sure you will be. You’re strong.” Leaning back against the seat, she moaned. “I’m just sad that you’re leaving! You’re my best friend, Iza!”
I grinned at her. “How about we go on a date later, huh? After school?” I suggested, wiggling my brows at her.
She chuckled. “I like that!”
Classes finished early. And for students like Stephanie and me who had no clubs after school, we were free to do anything we wanted. I sent dad a quick text that I’d be coming home late and that I was with Stephanie. He allowed me, knowing that this will be the last time I could spend time with my best friend. Who knows when I’m going to North Vale? What I know was that it’s just around the corner.
Arriving at the mall, I sighed in relief. We’re finally saved from that torturous heat. “So, what are we going to do?” I asked. I was elated that I’m allowed to stay out late tonight. Dad was always strict with me, prohibiting me from going anywhere as he’s aware that I attract trouble wherever I go. I don’t think, I just use my fists, that’s how he often described me.
But right now, he’s especially lenient much to my relief. I would have been more depressed if dad continued to be the authoritarian father that he was until the end.
“There’s a new milk tea stall that opened last week,” Stephanie informed, taking my hand to drag me to this place. “I heard it’s really good!”
As expected, the mall was filled with people spending the rest of their day either eating in restaurants or just hanging out to relieve stress. I didn’t mind the crowd, I was just happy to be with Stephanie. I’d miss this girl, no matter how naïve she could be. It worried me that no one’s going to watch out for her now that I’m going to leave. What if she gets tangled into another stupid blind dates—the thought was enough to make me lament over her well-being. I loved Stephanie, but she’s gullible.
Fortunately, the line was short at the milk tea shop. Stephanie was quick to fall in line, choosing what drink she’d get. I eyed the menu and decided I wanted the taro one, but maybe I could get the Jasmine tea, I never tasted that.
Does North Vale even sell milk tea? It’d be upsetting if a prestigious school such as them wouldn’t have milk teas.
I was too busy to choose what I wanted that I didn’t see a bunch of guys that stepped inside the store. Stephanie turned to look at them and gasped out loud.
I took my gaze off the menu and saw Remus marching towards us, his face filled with happiness. He was about to reach out for Stephanie, but I was quick to shove him back. “What the fuck are you doing here, ass?!” I asked.
“Ugh, you again,” Remus grunted, eyeing me in annoyance.
“Shouldn’t you be in jail after kid—” I stopped before I could tell Stephanie what happened that night. It’s the reason why I was sent to North Vale. Because of this asshole!
Stephanie was scared to even look at Remus, not after she discovered what this fucker’s been planning on doing to her. I’m so glad I managed to save her from being wrecked by this fuckboy.
I felt my whole body stiffened as I quickly recognized that voice. I pushed Remus out of the way, and I heard him whine but I didn’t give a damn. In front of me was…Liam. We stared at each other’s eyes and oh God, I felt like my heart’s about to jump out of my chest.
What’s he doing here?
No, this can’t be—don’t tell me this is fate!
I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He was as surprised as I was but was quick to recover. He smiled at me and said, “it’s nice to see you again.”
Oh God, I was trembling.
Oh God, Liam’s here!
My cheeks were hot but I tried my best to act like I wasn’t affected by his sudden appearance.
Keep it cool, Isiah.
Keep it—how can I keep cool when the guy I’m crushing so much is in front of me, again! Why does he always look so damn handsome even if he wears that stifling denim jacket, ah, I wanted to strip him naked, damn it!
Liam’s effect on me wasn’t funny anymore. I had only seen him a few times and yet I’m so attracted to him that it felt like I wouldn’t find any flaws in this person. And even if I do, I’d still continue to love him.
I’m just attracted to his face. He’s just very handsome, that’s all.
“Hey, order what you want. We need to go,” someone said from behind. I saw the guy who spoke, and he was taller than Liam, probably the same height as mine. He glanced at me, his eyes dark and cold. “What’s wrong?” he asked, raising a brow at Remus who walked towards Liam.
“I just saw the girl of my dreams here,” he said, sounding as ridiculous as ever. Even Liam had to roll his eyes after hearing what Remus just said. “Don’t you think this is fate?!”
“No, you’re just an idiot. Hurry up and get your god damn milk tea,” the guy beside Liam said.
They fell in line behind us. I noticed the stares everyone was giving as a bunch of handsome young men entered the store as if they owned the place. They were loud, and they definitely stand out among the rest. Liam and his friends certainly didn’t look like they were just normal students. It’s obvious that they’re in a gang. I confirmed it when Remus abducted me and clumsily tortured me like a bitch that he was.
But Liam, he’s different. He’s not like the others, he’s…far more dangerous.
I snapped back to reality when Stephanie grabbed my arm. She refused to look at Remus who’s been trying so hard to get her attention. I wouldn’t blame her. This idiot pretended to be someone who he wasn’t, just to score a fuck with a girl who’s naïve enough to believe everything he says.
“Do you want to go?” I asked.
I wanted to stay since Liam was here, but Stephanie was far more important. She’s uncomfortable.
“Don’t go, Steph!” I resisted the urge to punch Remus who once again found his way towards us. I held Stephanie, defending her from him. “Look, I made a mistake, but I really like you.”
Oh wow, for a second there I thought he was telling the truth. That genuine gaze he gave her was real, or was it?
“Don’t fall for that, miss,” someone from Liam’s group said. “He’s a piece of shit.”
The others laughed, agreeing. I glanced at Liam, shyly, and saw he was staring at Stephanie’s hand around me.
Oh, is he—?
“Shut up!” Remus screamed. He faced Stephanie again and continued, “please give me one more chance. Please?”
Stephanie gulped. “I—”
“For what?” I asked, stepping in to save her. “To ruin her, you asshole? Didn’t you tell me you wanted me gone just so you can fuck her, you ass!”
I didn’t give a damn if I was making a scene. I wanted Remus out of Stephanie’s life, and even if he kneels in front of her just to ask for another chance that he’d most probably fuck up again, I won’t allow it.
“How about this,” Liam said, suddenly speaking. He looked at Remus and smiled. “You can ask her out on a date, but you’ll have to refrain yourself from doing anything to her.”
“What?” Remus and I both said. “And how will you make sure he won’t do anything to her?!” I asked, furrowing my brows at Liam.
I ignored my heart that kept beating fast as if I had run a marathon.
Agh, damn it, heart! Calm down!
Liam thought for a second, pursing his lips that I wanted to bite so much. No, concentrate, Isaiah!
“Well, I can just cut his dick off,” Liam offered, smiling brightly at us.
“Surely, you’re joking, boss,” Remus said, his voice shaking.
Liam grinned at him. “Joke? I don’t joke, Martinez.”
What he said was frightening even if it was a joke, but I couldn’t help but think it was hot.
Something’s wrong with me.
Something’s definitely wrong with me.
“Let’s just go,” I said before I lost all reasoning and slam Liam against the wall and kiss him senseless.
It’s scary how much I like this guy.
“Don’t,” Liam said, his voice suddenly meek. The guy beside him raised a brow, surprised that he stopped us from going. “I’ll treat you,” he said, raising his head to look at me with that adorable smile of his that could bring me straight to heaven. “As an apology for what my friend did, let me do this for you.” He turned to Stephanie and added, “to miss Stephanie as well. I know Martinez has been nothing but a jerk but let me make up for that.”
“Oh,” Stephanie mumbled. I saw her eyes going wide as it sparkled in interest.
She likes Liam too!
“Sure!” she said, quickly losing that fearful stance she kept on showing. She let go of me before whispering, “dibs on him.”
I glared at her. “You bitch.”
Gathered around the table, I wouldn’t believe this was real. Liam’s here with me, and he’s sitting close to me.
Please, if this was a dream, don’t ever wake me up!
Remus kept on scooting beside Stephanie, attempting to hold her but I was quick to pinch the skin on his arm before he could even try to touch my best friend. He yelped in pain, rubbing his arm to ease out the pain.
“Do you guys all go to the same school?” Stephanie asked after taking a sip of the milk tea Liam bought for us.
“Yes,” Remus answered, pouting. “We’re not classmates, though. Liam and Paolo’s in section A.”
My heart skipped a beat.
I like smart guys.
We’re really meant to be!
“What section are you in?” Stephanie asked, facing Remus whose grin reached his ears when she finally talked to him.
“I’m section B! I’m with Rocky and Reb!” Remus answered excitedly.
I scoffed. He acted so cool back when he first met with Stephanie. Now that he’s showing his true colors, I couldn’t help but pity him. He’s so desperate to get Stephanie’s attention. Was he that frustrated he didn’t get her? For a guy with an ego like Remus, I’m sure he’s irked that he failed to get the virgin girl that he probably thought was the easiest to get to bed.
But as long as I’m alive, I’m not going to him get close to Stephanie.
Shit. I forgot I’m about to transfer to North Vale.
I looked back at Liam and was surprised to see him staring at me. He smiled and said, “is it tasty?”
For a second, I forgot how to speak.
He’s talking to me!
“Y-yes, it is,” I said, almost bursting the milk tea cup in my hand because I gripped it so hard. “Thanks for treating us.”
Now that we’re sitting so close, I could smell him.
He smelled so good.
I love it.
God damn it, Isaiah! Contain your gayness, for Christ’s sake!
“Good,” he said. His voice was deep yet rich—it’s as if it’s caressing me.
Oh man, I’m so whipped for this guy.
What am I going to do?
I’m going to North Vale and will be imprisoned there for years.
That quickly erased the smile off my face as I dreaded for that day.
I don’t want to go.
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