I didn’t know what came over me. I just took Isaiah’s hand and dashed out of there, somewhere far away from everyone who knew us. I didn’t want to waste this opportunity. He’s been on my mind ever since we met, and I know this wasn’t just puppy love. Everything about him interests me and I wanted to know him better.
If I go back to North Vale without actually talking to him, I’d be damned. Who knows when I could come out again and even then, there’s no reassurance that we’d meet again.
I couldn’t let this opportunity pass, I had to do it.
We ran out of the mall and into the streets, ignoring the people who eyed us in confusion. Why wouldn’t they? Two boys were running as if they did something worthy of being arrested.
But I couldn’t stop.
I ran, as fast as I could without breaking a sweat. It’s been so long since I last felt this free. All my life, I’d been shackled by people around me, stopping me from doing anything they didn’t want. They gave me all the things I needed and wanted, but what I truly desired was freedom, nothing more, nothing less.
And it’s one thing that would never be granted to me.
As long as I carry the Torres-Shao in my name, I’d never be liberated.
But right now, right at this moment, I held Isaiah’s hand and dragged him in a place I didn’t even know. I could feel the heat of his skin against mine as we run like the wind, and it was so god damn fulfilling.
When we finally stopped, I let go of him. I turned back and stared at his flushed face. As expected, he managed to keep up with me. Although he was sweating and panting, he looked absolutely stunning—his black hair that would probably feel soft when touched, his intense eyes that captivated me the first time I saw him, his cheeks that were flushed from all the running we did—this guy was beautiful, and I couldn’t stop admiring him.
“W-what…why did you do that?” he asked as he catches his breath for a second.
I chuckled, still exhilarated. “That’s the first time,” I said. His eyebrows creased but I only smiled at him. “That’s the first time I did something as wild as that.”
I was elated, everything happened so fast, but I never regretted running. Paolo would definitely beat me up later for doing something like this, but I didn’t give a damn. What mattered right now was that I’m with Isaiah.
“What?” he asked, obviously surprised. He’s definitely thinking how strange it was for me to suddenly take his hand and do something as abrupt as running.
But I didn’t want to miss this chance.
“I really don’t want to come home,” I said before laughing out loud. “My brother’s probably going to kill me,” before Paolo could, “but it’s worth it.” Isaiah stared at me, deliberating what I just said. “I just want to do something really dumb for once in my life,” I finished.
“And this is what you think is dumb? Running away from your friends?” He suddenly gasped out loud. “Steph, she’s—!”
I immediately scowled after remembering his friend, Stephanie. Or was she just a friend? It’s clear that Isaiah cared about her, but why? Do friends do that? Care for each other even when they’re not family or in a relationship. Was that even possible?
“Don’t worry,” I said, trying hard not to pout as it’d show my disappointment. I didn’t want Isaiah to think about how petty I really was. “The boys won’t touch her unless of course, they want to continue living.”
I wouldn’t think twice of slitting their throats if they did something to a civilian. There’s already a punishment waiting for Martinez in North Vale. The one rule everyone had to abide; never involve a civilian, no matter what happens. Every student in North Vale should prioritize its safety, and one of them was to stay away from people like Isaiah.
Well, I guess I’d just have to bear another whipping for two days, huh? I looked back at Isaiah’s face and thought it was worth it.
“So, what now?” he asked, his brow arching. It’s cute.
We walked on the side of the road, not paying any attention to our surroundings as we were both focused on each other.
“I’m hungry,” I said out of nowhere. I wasn’t really, but I reckoned Isaiah would leave if I don’t do anything. “Let’s eat.”
“What? Eat? Didn’t we just have milk tea?” he asked, his lips curling as he smiled at me in amusement.
“That’s not food, that’s a drink. I’m still hungry,” I reasoned out.
I heard him scoff, finding what I said incredibly childish. “Fine. I don’t have any money with me, but—”
Money was never a problem for me. “I’ll treat you,” he said. “As payment for coming along with me,” I said, grinning at him.
“Fine,” he said, his shoulders dropping in defeat.
Isaiah brought me to the nearest fast-food restaurant. I looked at the place and realized how different it was from the last restaurant I ate with dad. Even with the tacky exterior, I couldn’t help but think this was cozier than that other place—seeing there were students, families, friends, every kind of people dining together, smiling while talking to each other as if they had no problems, it’s rejuvenating.
It’s stupid that I was getting giddy over a simple fast-food chain that sells cheap food, but Isaiah’s presence makes all the difference.
I looked at him as we entered the place. I couldn’t stop thinking about how happy I am. I’d never felt this way before, not since I last saw my mother. I’m filled with joy, and it hurt that I’d have to let it go when I come back to North Vale.
Walking in, I was immediately hit by the smell of fried chicken wafting in the air and it smelled so temptingly delicious. The mixed voices of the people chattering echoed, but I didn’t mind. I never liked noisy places, he hated it. But not a single complaint had been said in my head.
It seems like he likes Isaiah too.
“What do you want to eat?” I asked, moving close to Isaiah as my eyes read the menu displayed behind the counter.
He tensed beside me before responding. “I’d just get the burger,” he said.
I blinked, curious that he only wanted something as simple as that. I’d get everything if I could, unfortunately, it’d ruin my diet. “Just burger?” I asked.
“What?” he asked, playfully glaring at me.
I laughed. I knew he’s interesting right at first sight, but I never expected he’d be this fascinating up close. Everything he does was refreshing, I loved it. “Nothing, I didn’t expect you’d be the kind of guy who only gets a burger when being treated.”
He flashed me a smirk. “Fine, get me the super meal,” he said as if it was a dare. I didn’t know what a super meal was and had to check the menu. It was a complete meal—rice, chicken, fries, soup, and burger, now that’s what I’m talking about.
“Good, I’ll get the same thing,” I said, grinning at him.
We waited behind a man. I could feel Isaiah staring at me and I’m basking over the attention I’m getting from him. I was never the kind of guy who’d bother observing people around me unless of course, I’m in the middle of a job. But knowing that Isaiah was studying me made me blush.
Yes, I really do love the attention, Isaiah.
“Isn’t it hot?” he asked out of nowhere.
“What?” I asked, glancing at him.
“Wearing hoodies. It’s like thirty-eight Celsius outside, it’s very hot,” he explained, staring at the jacket I’m wearing. Yes, it was hot, but I’m used to wearing clothes that would hide my tattoos. I never liked people looking at it as it’d typically get spooked. The only place I could wear short-sleeve shirts was North Vale, or when I’m at home.
“I can’t really wear shirts,” I replied.
Isaiah blinked at me. “Why?”
“I just can’t,” I said.
“I want to know,” he pressed, like a curious cat.
I looked at him, smiling. “Because people will be freaked out when they see what’s underneath,” I answered, cheekily grinning at him. I didn’t want to tell him what kind of guy I am. No matter how strong Isaiah was if he discovered what kind of things I was used to doing, I’m sure even he would find me a freak.
Just like all of them.
“Why? Is it because you have tattoos?” he asked, his gaze serious. I thought he’d play along with me, but he was genuinely curious. And I find it endearing.
He actually wants to know me.
I smiled mischievously. “Maybe?” I said.
I watched Isaiah take his phone out, his fingers moving fast as he typed a message to Stephanie. I pouted, annoyed that he’s still thinking of her when the two of us were together. Shouldn’t he be focused on me, damn it.
I ignored the nagging voice in my head. “Who are you texting?” I asked as I didn’t see her name in his phone.
“Stephanie,” he answered, not even looking at me.
I frowned. “Are you and Ms. Stephanie…close?” I carefully asked.
He stifled a laugh. “Yeah, she’s my best friend,” he said.
Best friend, huh?
“Oh, so not lovers then?” I asked.
Finally, Isaiah looked at me. “And what makes you think she’s my girlfriend?” he asked.
I thought for a second. “You care for her,” I said. That’s the only reason why I think they might be going out. You don’t care for other people unless they’re family. That’s just strange.
Isaiah scoffed and I pouted, thinking that he’s making fun of me. “So, caring for someone means they’re dating them?” he asked.
“Isn’t that what dating means?” I asked.
He chuckled. “Don’t you have people that you care for? Other than your family?”
I froze. I’d been surrounded by people who only see me as…something else. My father doesn’t even care about me, the only thing he cared about was how I’m going to take over the family and continue his business. My brothers were all living their lives, minding their own business.
I wasn’t needed.
“I don’t know,” I said, quietly.
“Aren’t those people your friend?” Isaiah asked and I knew he’s talking about Paolo and the rest of my gang. “Don’t you care about them?”
“No, except for Paolo, he’s my childhood friend.” He’s always been with me, but the fact that it’s his duty to take care of me didn’t change a thing.
“See? Caring for someone doesn’t mean you’re dating them,” Isaiah said.
I still don’t get it. So, he’s capable of loving and caring someone even if that person wasn’t his family—that’s amazing.
“So, you don’t like her romantically?” I asked.
Isaiah was exasperated. “No, Liam. I’m not attracted to my best friend. Are you attracted to this Paolo guy?” he asked, sarcastically.
“No,” I answered almost too quickly. I’d never seen Paolo that way. He was a friend and it’d never change. But I don’t think I need to take care of him, he’s more than capable of protecting himself, right?
Or maybe I’m just used to people tending to me.
“See,” he said again, smirking.
I never realized I liked talking to Isaiah. He never had to address me as boss. He wasn’t scared, not like the others who were walking on eggshells whenever they’re with me. Isaiah didn’t care about the Torres-Shao as he knew nothing about them. If only I could hide the truth from him, but would it even matter?
It’s not as if I’m going to see Isaiah after this.
When we were done ordering our food, we found a vacant table and sat down. I was excited to eat, realizing that I got hungry after that long wait. While eating, Isaiah put his spoon down and looked at me.
“Why me?” he asked.
Was he asking why I brought him here and not the others? I finished chewing before answering, “I don’t know. I just acted on impulse,” I said, trying to hide the fact that I didn’t want to end this day without having a proper conversation with him. “And…I’m really interested in you,” I added, hoping Isaiah would notice that I liked him.
It’s absurd to say that, we only met each other twice. And this was the first time that we actually get to talk like this. He’d probably think it’s strange for me to say I’m interested in him when we barely knew each other.
But wasn’t that the point? I was curious about him and I wanted to know more.
Isaiah stiffened, eyeing me in disbelief. “What?”
Oh, shit. I thought I wanted him to notice but now that he did, I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed. What if he tells me it’s weird for another guy to be interested in another one?
It’s weird, isn’t it?
“I don’t know. Stop asking me. I just really want to get away. I-I don’t want to come home, I told you.” I was stammering and it’s humiliating, it’s like I’m back to being a kid who couldn’t even construct a proper sentence.
“Why not?” Isaiah asked, pushing me to say what’s really on my mind.
But I refused.
Whatever this relationship we had was only temporary. I had no intention of dragging him in my family’s mess.
Right, my family.
“Because…I don’t like my family,” I said, lowering my head to hide my frown. My brothers were alright, but my father and what we do…I don’t like it.
“Sorry,” Isaiah said.
I smiled, guilty that this conversation suddenly turned depressing. “It’s fine. I just have a complicated relationship with my father and brother, that’s all,” I explained, hoping it’d lighten up the mood.
“My sister can be an ass sometimes,” Isaiah said, pulling a smile. “I can understand you, just a little bit.”
I’m glad I learned another thing about him. “You have a sister?” That’s nice. I always wanted to have a sister. It’s amazing how mom and dad were consistent in producing boys throughout their shitty marriage.
“Yeah, her name is Sam. She’s a pain but I love her.” I could tell he does, Isaiah looked so beautiful when he smiles like that.
“I have three brothers,” I said, trying not to think about Tyler and what’s he going to do to me later. “I’m the youngest.”
He looked stunned. “Oh wow.”
“The oldest two have already graduated,” I shared. “I just visited my other brother yesterday. We haven’t seen each other for months.”
“You don’t live together?” he asked, confused.
“No. I live with my other brother.” Yeah, my lovely older brother who loved torturing me whenever he could—may it be a punishment or just to vent his anger on me—it didn’t matter, I’m his punching bag.
“Not with your father?” Isaiah inquired.
“No, he lives here in Manila,” I said. And I’d never want to live under the same roof with my father ever again. Every time I’m with him, the air was just…stifling. His presence alone was suffocating, I hated it.
“So, where are you from?”
I bit my tongue before I could blurt out where I’m staying. “Further north.” It was a vague answer and I hope he wouldn’t ask anything about it. I had to change topics. “Do you know to fight?” I asked all of a sudden.
“What makes you ask?”
“When Martinez kidnapped you, I saw you weren’t fazed. A normal person would have panicked and asked questions. You didn’t.” Martinez was stupid enough to abduct someone, and he made an even bigger mistake that he went after Isaiah. It’s evident that he knew how to defend himself, and if I didn’t know better, I would have thought he belonged to some gang or something. The smug attitude he carried that night as if he could defeat everyone in that room in a second captured my attention, and it’s one of the traits I’m looking for if ever I wanted to recruit a person in my gang.
I liked his confidence…damn, why am I liking everything about him, it’s insane.
Isaiah smirked at me. “I know how to protect myself,” he said, stealing one of my fries and chomping it down. “So, you better be careful about befriending someone like me.”
That was sexy, definitely. “Likewise, Isaiah,” I said, returning his sly smile. “How did you learn how to fight?” I asked.
He shrugged his shoulders. “My dad, he’s very enthusiastic to make a man out of me,” he said.
“Oh, so your father’s the one who trained you?” I asked. I wondered why. Was he in a gang or something?
Isaiah heaved a sigh. “No, he enrolled me in many summer classes when I was young. Martial arts, Muay Thai, karate, boxing, jujutsu—anything he could think of just to make me…like any other boys out there,” he explained.
So, not in a gang. Good. “That’s incredible,” I praised, smiling proudly at him. “Not a lot of people can do what you did.”
Isaiah grinned. “Maybe I’m just a fast learner. How about you? You’re from a gang, right?”
I chuckled. “What makes you think that?”
He rolled his eyes at me and said, “I don’t know, I just…get that vibe from you. Are you like in a frat group or something?”
Oh, Isaiah. If you only know what kind of person I really am. I’m more than someone who’s in a gang or frats, I’m more…evil.
“What will you do if I’m indeed in a gang?” I asked instead of answering his question.
“I don’t know, join you?”
I laughed out loud. Oh man, he’s really one of a kind, I couldn’t get enough of him. “I’d rather not see you get in trouble, Isaiah,” I said, smiling big at him. “You might end up in North Vale.”
His face suddenly turned sullen. “What do you think of people going to North Vale?”
I was surprised by his question. It’s a known fact that North Vale holds an infamous reputation among the citizens. And it scared me that he’d think of me differently when he discovers I’m actually the son of the person who built that hellhole.
“I think…most of them deserved to go there but some…doesn’t.”
There’s a lot of anomalies and corruption in North Vale and the people who went there in hopes of finding a better life were robbed in broad daylight. The school offered programs for orphans as the country tries to find better options for children left by their parents—it’s considered a great idea as it helped lessen the children roaming on the streets. Little did they know that those kids were better off outside than in North Vale.
I eyed Isaiah and saw that he was staring at me in awe. He was about to open his mouth to say something but a loud voice that called my name made me jump from my seat. I turned around and I swore to God my heart almost dropped when I saw Paolo marching towards our direction.
He hit me on the head, and it hurt. For a second, I felt him react, but I managed to control it.
Isaiah was quick, standing up and grabbing Paolo’s arm in an attempt to protect me. Shit! I couldn’t let Paolo know about Isaiah.
“F*ck off,” Isaiah warned. His threat carried weight and Paolo knew.
“Don’t get involved, Isaiah Montenegro.” I shuddered. What? How did he know Isaiah’s name? Don’t tell me they’re already doing a background check on him, f*ck!
“Stop it,” I said, shoving Paolo off Isaiah. I gave him a warning glare, but he didn’t care. He’s pissed, and I understand why. “I shouldn’t have run away.”
“Yeah, you shouldn’t have.” He grabbed my hand and dragged me to the door. “Your brother’s been waiting for you. If you don’t want to be whipped all night, we need to arrive before ten.”
Before ten? I glanced at my watch and realized there’s no way we’d arrived at North Vale in just two hours. Unless Paolo found a way to carry the car and get it lifted in the air, then maybe it’d be possible.
The car was waiting outside the restaurant. The door opened and Paolo forced me to get in. Everyone was already inside, looking at me in worry.
“Where’d you go, boss? You suddenly just run away,” Rocky said.
“Make sure he won’t bolt again,” Paolo warned before slamming the door close. I settled back on the seat, annoyed that I’m being treated like a kid.
“The pres called,” Martinez informed, “and he wants to see you, now.”
“F*ck, he’s going to kill us all, doesn’t he?”
I shut my eyes. The peace I felt back when I was with Isaiah completely vanished as if it didn’t even happen.
“Name your punishment, Liam,” Paolo said, glaring at me through the rear mirror.
I gritted my teeth.
I can kill them.
No, don’t even bother.
I could do this.
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