After Kenneth let me see a glimpse of his love life that I thought didn’t exist because he was too concentrated with work, I couldn’t see to think of anything else. Eating dinner passed like a breeze and soon, I was on the couch watching a Netflix movie with him. Kenneth had never been a fan of films. Unlike his brother who could spend the rest of his Saturday afternoon in front of the television, watching tons of movies without a care for the world, Kenneth was far too busy to do anything recreational. Even in his day off, I’d seen him work in his office, probably replying to hundreds of emails sent to him.
“You know you can go to bed if you want,” I said, peeking from the pillow I was hugging.
Kenneth shook his head. “No, I’ll stay,” he said. He sat close to me, his eyes fixated on the screen.
I smiled to myself. At least there’s one person in my family that wanted to stay with me. That matters. “So, when’s the wedding going to be?” I asked while the movie took a boring turn after the epic fight between the heroes and the villains.
Shrugging his shoulders, he answered, “it’s up to his father. I already hired people to prepare for the wedding. I’m just waiting for her to say the date.”
I pouted. “Don’t you think that’s unfair,” I said. I turned my body to face Kenneth, completely ignoring the movie playing. “You don’t like the girl you’re going to marry, I mean, won’t you be miserable?”
Not only that, but I also heard she had a rotten attitude.
“Your brother is lucky he found her. He knows how to use the people around him.”
‘I wonder where he got that’, I sarcastically asked myself.
“I’ve been miserable my whole life, Liam,” he quietly said, averting his eyes off me. He pretended he was interested in the movie. “Don’t worry about me.”
It’s evident he didn’t want to talk about his future endeavors with this fiancé of his. I couldn’t blame him. The person he wanted to be was going to tie the knot, I couldn’t imagine the pain he’s dealing right now, even if he was Kenneth who was incapable of knowing pain.
“Who’s the guy?” I asked.
Kenneth tensed. “You won’t know even if I tell you.”
Yep, dismissing my desire to know him better, that’s Kenneth for sure. “But…what’s it like?”
“To like a man?”
He scoffed. “Why? Do you like men now?”
I gulped, nervously. As the chosen heir to lead the group, I couldn’t afford to explore my sexuality. What was expected of me was to find a suitable woman who’d bear my children to continue the Torres-Shao’s legacy. The thought was scary, but it was inevitable. “No,” I answered, erasing that guy’s face in my head as soon as he said like. “I’m just curious.”
Kenneth chuckled and although it came out sarcastic, I didn’t mind. “Curiosity kills the cat, Liam. Remember that.”
Kenneth and I ended up watching two more movies after finally deciding it was time to hit the sack. He offered me to sleep in his bedroom, but I refused. He lent me one of his guestrooms and made sure I was tucked in before leaving. Even if I wanted to talk more, I’m sure Kenneth was exhausted and was itching to go to bed and sleep. Unfortunately, I couldn’t spend more time with my brother, it’s going to take maybe half a year before I see him again. Kenneth’s always busy with work and now that he’s getting married, I doubt he’d even have time left to be with me.
Turning the lamp on, I sat up on the bed and reached for my phone. Two in the morning, huh? Only a few more hours and I’d be returning to North Vale. My little vacation was over in an instant.
I’m not going to see that guy ever again.
I refused to be disappointed, but I couldn’t. I hated how I was imprisoned in North Vale. In the past, I was more than glad to get away from my family. I was thrilled after hearing that I’d be going to the scandalous institution that my father established for his selfish whims. It’s the only way to escape from his abuse. Every day I had to endure his training as he wanted to bring out the worst in me. It was hell on Earth. And no matter how much I fought to keep my sanity, it was getting harder and harder for me to know what was real or not. Dad was adamant about turning me into a demon, just like him, and it scared me that one day, I’d really be one.
I gripped my phone and dreaded for Paolo to come and pick me up. I wanted to stay with Kenneth. Hell, if only I could, I would have done it in a heartbeat. But sadly, I couldn’t.
I just couldn’t.
I looked around the guestroom and as always, it was tidy and spacious. Kenneth never really spend any time living here. I’m sure he had three other penthouses in Manila, or maybe even more. But he’s always out of the country working, what’s even the point of having a house?
I stood up and walked to the bookshelf. It only had a handful of books and not of it were even interesting. I gave up finding something to read and just moved to the windows to admire the city skylight. I drew the curtains and smiled upon seeing the bright lights of the skyscrapers twinkling as if they were stars at night.
I was about to go back to bed but stopped when my phone rang. It was Paolo calling. What? Did something happen?
I quickly picked it up. “What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Nothing. I have a feeling you can’t sleep.”
Leave it to Paolo to anticipate everything about me. He knew me too well, maybe better than me.
“Yes, I can’t. I just finished a movie with Kenneth.”
Hearing Paolo’s voice calmed me right away. He must have probably thought I’m feeling anxious to come back to North Vale. Which of course, was correct. I liked it in North Vale just because it’s the safest place away from my father’s merciless treatment. Tyler might have been worst, but he knew when to stop. And it not for Maria who was the only one who could save me from Tyler’s abuse, I would have died a long time ago. She was one of the few reasons I wanted to stay in North Vale. Her motherly affection towards me reminded me of mom who I hadn’t seen for quite some time.
But now that I met that guy, the same guy that managed to capture my heart and my attention, I didn’t want to come back to North Vale. Who knows when will be the next time we’re allowed to leave—for a job or a family visit? I’d been longing for a normal life ever since I was a little boy, but this time, I desperately yearned for it. Just because of that guy.
Who would have thought that meeting someone just a few times would make me this…miserable? Every damn second, his face would appear in my head. It was frustrating and yet at the same time, I couldn’t stop thinking about him.
He was cool.
So cool that I think I’m really in love with him.
He was never afraid of looking me in the eye. When he’s in front of me, it’s as if I was naked from top to bottom—like he could see right through me. He’s making the devil inside me blush, and he was the only one who could do that.
“You should get some sleep, Liam,” Paolo said, his voice gentle and quiet.
I nodded. “Sorry for worrying you. I’ll sleep now.”
“See you later.” He hung up the phone, leaving me again with my thoughts.
I bet that guy had forgotten about me already. Unlike him, there’s nothing memorable about me.
With heavy shoulders, I walked back to my bed and threw myself on top. Staring at the ceiling for the longest time, my eyelids became heavy and soon, I fell asleep while still thinking about him.
Appearing in my dreams was the only way for the two of us to be together.
How miserable indeed.
I heard someone calling my name and it immediately woke me up. I sprung out of the bed, my heart beating fast. But as soon as I saw Kenneth sitting on the edge of the bed, eyeing me like I was some abused and fragile animal, I breathed a sigh of relief.
“Were you having a nightmare?” he asked.
My older brother was a man with reserved emotions. He could be arrogant and outgoing when he wanted to, but most times, he just keeps it all to himself. The older he gets, the wearier he becomes, it’s upsetting. And I know for a fact that it’s because of the priorities pushed onto him. For all I know, Kenneth wanted to be a chef, or a mechanic, or a teacher—he was never given the chance to choose what he wanted in life. Now, he had to marry someone he didn’t even like.
“No,” I said. In fact, I don’t dream. All I ever see in my dreams were nightmares—the terror infused in my brain because of all the torture I endured. But after meeting him, damn it, he changed everything. There were still bad dreams, but when he’s in it, I’d always wake up smiling.
Fuck, what’s happening to me?
“Good,” Kenneth murmured, reaching out to caress my face. “Do you always look this horrible after waking up?” he teased as his thumb brushed over the bag under my eye. “Get up and take a bath. I’ll cook breakfast.”
I eyed him obtusely. “What? You cook?”
“I live alone, brother. Sooner or later, you’ll learn too.”
I watched him leave the room, lending me the bathroom that this room had. I stood up and walked to the door on the right. I was surprised to see a brand-new set of clothes sitting on top of the counter. I grinned to myself, delighted that I was being spoiled again.
It’s been so long since I last felt like I’m cherished.
Kenneth did cook breakfast—a typical Filipino breakfast that consisted of tapa (1), garlic rice, and fried eggs. I almost salivated when I saw the table filled with food. The smell was tempting, and I was quick to sit down and dive in.
“What time will Paolo pick you up?” he asked.
I already stuffed my mouth with food. Kenneth eyed me sharply and I was quick to chew it. “He texted me. He’d come at ten.”
“Alright. I’ll have to leave soon too.”
“Where are you going?”
“Meeting,” he simply answered.
We ate in silence while the television in the background played. Kenneth finished quickly and stayed in his seat while watching the morning news. I was once amazed that he knew how to cook and that it actually tasted good. We grew up being pampered by dozens of maids, leaving us clueless on how to live alone. But Kenneth had been an adult for years, I’m sure by now that he was already an expert in living independently.
As for me, well, Paolo would think I’d be dead if left alone for a day or two.
“Two Chinese men are arrested for owning a prostitution den that involves minors.”
I stopped as soon as I heard what was being said in the news. Kenneth only scoffed, finding the news ridiculous. “Let’s expect another endless phone call to dad today,” he joked.
There were lots of Chinese people in the syndicate that comes here in the Philippines to start whatever illegal business they could. Just pay the right people the right amount of money and they could do anything they wanted—be it prostitution, illegal gambling, drug production and distribution, hired killings, everything’s available as long as you have the money and connection. And for the Torres-Shao who was an established syndicate group here in the country, they mostly come to my father for help. There were hundreds of mob groups in China, and almost half of them were our affiliates.
I watched what was being shown on television. The den was a condominium complex that stood in one of the wealthiest streets in Manila, probably owned by one of dad’s friends. The camera panned into one of the rooms and it presented different kinds of paraphernalia used for prostitution—toys, beds, a complete room with multiple monitors and cameras for online sex cams, or whatever they called it now. It reminded me of Cagadas place and how disgusting it was even if it was spot clean.
The special task force barged into the room, arresting the dozens of women being kept inside the many rooms of the condominium until. They censored their faces for privacy, but I’m pretty sure all of them would just magically disappear to abstain from the fuckers who dragged them into this kind of life.
Even if they arrested them, they’d be bailed out of jail in no time. That’s how powerful my father was. And he was an important friend to everyone in the syndicate here in the Philippines.
Kenneth turned the TV off and faced me. “Eat up. I’ll get ready.” He left the table and walked back to his bedroom.
There was a knock on the door. Thinking it was Paolo who always comes early, I walked to the door and looked through the peephole. Surprisingly, it wasn’t my best friend. It’s the security guard working here in the building.
I opened the door and blinked at the man. “Yes?”
“Good morning, sir,” he greeted, his voice sounding throaty. Might be the cigarettes. “There’s a letter for Mr. Kenneth Torres-Shao.”
“Oh, I’m his brother. I can take that.”
The man smiled at me. He handed the rectangular white envelope. “Thanks, sir.”
I closed the door and stared at it. Was this an invitation? I flipped it to see if there were any names.
I felt my heart skipped a beat.
Was it the same Hiro? Hiro Blaise?
Was Kenneth associated with the current leader of the Blaise group? I know that he attended North Vale long before I started studying, but was he close to my brother? I never knew anything about Hiro when he was in North Vale, just that he was a very terrifying man. I feared to even meet such a dangerous guy, but if he was friends with Kenneth and Anthony, that’d be amazing.
“Who was that?” Kenneth asked, emerging from his room.
“The guard,” I answered. I showed him the envelope. “It’s a letter. From Hiro.”
His eyes widened as he quickly walked towards me to yank the letter off my hand. I was bewildered by his reaction as if he panicked for a second after seeing what I had.
Ripping it open, he took the card out and it was indeed an invitation. Kenneth bit his lip, his hand shaking for a second. “At least I’m invited, huh?” he commented.
I furrowed my brows at him. “What? Is Hiro Blaise getting married? It is Hiro Blaise, right?”
Kenneth shrugged his shoulders, handing me the envelope like it’s acid. “I’ll need to call Anthony. Stay here.”
Once again, my older brother was keeping secrets. Damn. I looked back at the card. It was a simple invitation with an embossed name printed in the center. It had a slick design, and it was more like a calling card than a wedding invitation.
Two names were on the card. Hiro Blaise and Paige Garcia.
I wondered who Paige was? Was she someone who Hiro was forced to marry or—
“Because he’s getting married too.”
My body grew cold as realization dawned upon me.
Was the man Kenneth talking about…was it Hiro?
No fucking way.
Paolo arrived on time, sauntering inside Kenneth’s house. He saw me sitting on the couch, my gaze unfocused.
“What happened?” he asked. “Didn’t have a good sleep?”
I slowly nodded. Kenneth was done getting ready to go out with us. I heard him talk to Anthony in his room and they sounded like they’re in a fight. Nevertheless, he looked absolutely normal when he got out, grabbing the invitation on the table and slipping it inside his coat pockets.
“Here,” my older brother said. He stepped out of the kitchen dressed in a business suit. Right, he was going to attend a meeting. “Let’s go.”
He let us out first before locking the door behind him. Paolo faced Kenneth and asked, “are you going to leave the country again?”
“Yes, but I have to take care of things here before leaving for Shanghai.”
“Are you meeting up with Anthony.”
“It’s in my plans.”
I remained quiet throughout the walk in the corridor. By the time we arrived at the parking lot, Paolo and Kenneth had already talked about everything. His driver and five bodyguards were waiting for him.
“Call me soon, Liam,” he said before getting inside the back of his Volvo. Paolo and I watched him and the other cars that followed him drove away.
“Did you at least enjoy your time with Kenneth?” Paolo asked while unlocking the car.
I just found out my brother’s bisexual. I’m sure the only relationship he had was with girls. He and Anthony were notorious for fucking girls from left to right back when they were students. But…was he really in love with Hiro? Or was he just being cryptic like always?
That reaction he made when he saw the invitation, the genuine pain and disappointment that flashed his usual dark eyes—it’s real.
I was curious about how it began.
Was it in North Vale?
Surely, it was.
“I’m going to pick up the others at the gasoline station,” Paolo informed.
I didn’t want to meddle with my brother’s affair. But the secrets he holds were compelling, it’s making me want to know more.
“Finally!” Martinez yelled as soon as the vehicle’s door slid opened. “I thought you were lost!”
“It’s the traffic, fuckface. Stop complaining,” Paolo mumbled under his breath.
They hopped inside the van, sliding next to each other before closing the door. “Ugh, we’re finally going back to North Vale.”
“Did you at least fuck some girls?” Reb asked.
“Of course, not!” Martinez answered angrily. “The girl I want to fuck is guarded like the fucking queen.”
“Then find another one.”
“I can’t. Not until I score one with her.”
I only rolled my eyes, annoyed at how they were talking about the girl that Martinez had been aiming ever since we arrived in Manila. I eyed Rocky and saw he was already settled on his seat, closing his eyes to sleep for the rest of the ride.
Two hours had passed since we left the city. I was bored to death. If it wasn’t for that intriguing invitation and Kenneth’s connection to Hiro Blaise, my mouth would have foamed at how boring this ride was. I couldn’t even sleep because of Martinez’ constant yapping, as if he will die if he stops talking.
Another hour had passed. Through the distance, I could see the same mall where I met that guy, and the demon inside me pushed me to speak.
“I’m hungry,” I voiced out what he wanted me to say. My stomach was quick to support me as it growled loudly.
Paolo eyed me. “Alright, we can stop for an hour and eat.”
“Yes!” Martinez cheered. “I want milk tea!”
I wanted to scold him for asking a stopover, but I knew deep down that I wanted it too. I could see him smirking in satisfaction.
Paolo maneuvered the car to the right and entered the mall. Tyler was waiting for me but I’m ready to receive a whipping if only I could see that guy again.
Please, that’s my only wish.
“Get out,” Paolo demanded after finding a parking spot. We did what we were told, and Martinez suddenly hooked his arm against mine.
“Boss, please don’t tell SCP what I did, okay?” he whispered, his lips forming that disgusting pout.
“What? That you kidnapped a civilian and was humiliated by the same guy you’re trying to beat up?” I teased, grinning at him.
Martinez’ face grew pale. “You know what I’m talking about! Your brother’s going to skin me alive if he knows.”
I patted his shoulder. “Maybe I can convince him to just punch you in the face, huh?”
He gasped. He knew that Tyler’s fist could break a nose and maybe even give him brain damage. It’s not as if he needed more.
“We only have an hour,” Paolo reminded. “We can’t be late. SCP’s waiting.”
“I know,” I muttered.
I’m just stalling but I didn’t care. I had a feeling I’m going to see him here.
“I know he’ll be here. I can smell him.”
I tried hard not to roll my eyes.
“Milk tea, I need milk tea. The one in North Vale sucks,” Martinez said.
“Maybe because they’re really pumping it with cum.”
“Fuck you, that’s gross.”
We entered the mall. Paolo was the one who led us to the milk tea store before finding a restaurant to eat dinner.
I kept looking around, expecting to see that guy. This was the same place we met before. I didn’t want to show them how anxious I was. I’d be locked in North Vale for months, this might be the last time I’m going to see him again.
“We’re here, boss. What flavor do you want?” Reb asked.
I didn’t even care about the milk tea, damn it.
I was about to answer him but as soon as I saw that familiar figure in the store, that dark hair that looked so soft to the touch, his broad shoulders and muscular biceps—fuck.
“I told you he’s here.”
Tapsilog - One of the most common breakfast staples in the Philippines is tapsilog, a plate which consists of sliced beef jerky, known as tapa, a heap of garlic rice, and a fried egg. It is believed that the dish grew out of necessity, to cater to the needs of many workers who were in search of a quick, cheap, and nutritious breakfast.
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