The travel back to North Vale was exhausting. I slept throughout the ride, putting my noise-canceling earphones to block out Martinez’ annoying voice as he talked like he’s a radio announcer. By the time we arrived, it was ten in the evening.
Paolo woke me up, shaking my shoulders. “Boss, we’re here,” he informed me.
I groaned. Struggling to open my eyes, I stretched my sore limbs. I reminded myself to do some work-out tomorrow. I’d been eating too much ever since I left school. Tyler will kill me if he sees me slacking off.
The others had already left the vehicle, walking to the dormitory building to take some rest. I got out, sighing. “Let me guess, my brother wants to talk to me.”
Paolo nodded, his gaze grim. “Yes. He wants to know why we’re late.”
“Right.” I could only grimace at the thought of Tyler wanting to talk to me.
The only reason why I was late was because of Isaiah. But I didn’t regret meeting him again. It’d be the last time, I knew it was. I’m thankful I managed to see him before I get imprisoned again in this damned place. Nevertheless, it’d be safer for him this way. Isaiah didn’t need to associate himself with someone like me. He’s pure, and I was the definition of evil. I couldn’t let him be dragged into my shitty world.
“Let’s go,” Paolo urged.
He locked the car and walked with me to the school building. It’d be a long walk from the dormitory to the senior high student council office, but I was willing to do it. It’d allow me to get ready for whatever berating I would receive from my older brother. I blatantly disobey his order. Tyler’s words were the law. Break it and I’d received the worst form of punishment.
I didn’t want that.
But for Isaiah’s sake, maybe it’d be worth enduring.
We continued walking on the pathway that led to Tyler’s office. Only the sound of our shoes tapping against the pavement and the rustle of the leaves as the wind howled loudly occupied my ears. If there’s one thing I liked in North Vale, it’s the tranquil nights that changed the whole place into a paradise. Of course, it’d change in the morning as the hyenas wake up to hunt for the weak. It’s ironic how North Vale was advertised as the greatest solution the authorities thought of to control the crimes happening in the country. Little did they know that this place was created to conceive more vile people—things that would help destroy the country furthermore.
“Look, Liam,” Paolo started, his voice stiff. I looked at him with raised brows. “What happened earlier, I have to apologize for hurting you.” I stared at him. “I was just so worried. You left and…”
I chuckled. Seeing him lamenting over his actions was enough for me to forgive him. Besides, he was just doing his job. It’d be Paolo’s head on the platter if something were to ever happen to me. Out of all the people in this place, he was the only one who had seen Tyler’s rage. And I’m sure it traumatized him every time he watched me get punished. My older brother was a demon, and if he had to kill everyone around me to let me understand what my role was, he’d do it in a heartbeat.
“It’s fine,” I said. “You’re worried, I understand.”
Paolo furrowed his brows. He looked at me, perturbed. I’m sure he’s concerned. I’m about to enter the lion’s den. Who knows what would happen while I face Tyler? “I think it’s wise to leave that guy alone.” What he said came out of nowhere.
“He’s not like us, Liam. Don’t involve civilians,” he reminded me. I stopped walking as the realization hits me hard. I knew that. Even before I took his hand and pulled him away at that time, I knew I’d be making a grave mistake by getting close to him. But for some damn reason, being with Isaiah makes me calm, as if I’m home. Just by talking to him felt like all my troubles had disappeared. He was interested in me not because I’m a Torres-Shao but because of who I am.
I’m sure he wouldn’t give a damn if he discovered what kind of person I was.
But Paolo was right. I had to forget about him. Now that I’m inside North Vale, I needed to focus on my work and that’s to prepare myself to become the next leader of the Torres-Shao group. All responsibilities to continue my father’s legacy would fall on my shoulders. Tyler was only doing everything he could to help me survive this world. We both knew I’m still not ready.
I smiled at Paolo. “I know,” I said. “I’ll probably have to marry some rich girl in the future, just like what Kenneth did, right?” Paolo didn’t say anything. He just eyed me as we walked closer to the school building. “Besides, it’s not like the guy likes me too. He’ll forget me too.”
That’s right. Isaiah’s just had to be a part of my memory—our meeting was the highlight of my life and I had to treasure it for the rest of my days.
His twinkling eyes, radiant eyes, melodic laugh, and warm hands—I had to forget it all.
Wayne stood in front of the student council office. He looked at me and I forced a smile at him. This man had been working for the Torres-Shao group for as long as I could remember. He was once the headmistress’ attendant, serving as her secretary and bodyguard as dad trusted him with Maria’s safety. But nowadays, he stuck close to my brother. Tyler didn’t need any bodyguards, but I’m sure it was the headmistress’ idea to keep him on his leash. After all, he was known to having a short fuse.
“Good evening,” I greeted.
The stoic man only nodded his head before knocking on the door. The door creaked open, and I braced myself to be whipped to death for missing my curfew.
Paolo followed me inside. The student council floor was located on the top of the building. Only selected people could come here, as it’s heavily guarded. Rumors circulated in the school that the council helped North Vale with the drug business. Of course, I knew it wasn’t. Students who belonged in the student council were involved in the Torres-Shao’s business, helping them find buyers and consumers, capitalizing from the country’s demand for drugs and illegal weapons that they wouldn’t find anywhere. There were a lot of rich bastards who’d either sell them or use them just because they could. But not only do they profit from the wealthy, but they’re also using the feeble and desperate people who used those drugs to escape the harsh reality of the world.
And dad knew that. He’d use everyone around him, not caring if he’d end up destroying their lives just because he wanted every cent to go to him. Money was his drugs. Dad would never stop until he conquered everything he could.
I stood in front of the gigantic oak desk placed in the middle of the room. Tyler’s office was spacious and could fit a crowd without huddling together. The red carpet on the floor was soft, and the bronze-colored walls gave the room an antique kind of vibe. Bookshelves surrounded one part of the room, while the other had a round wooden table meant for meetings held in Tyler’s office.
Every time I come here, I would notice the surveillance cameras in all covers of the room. I’m sure Maria’s watching us right now. I didn’t exactly know what kind of relationship Tyler and the headmistress had, but I’m sure it’s more than just being intimate with each other. If there’s one person in this world who could save me from my brother’s wrath, it’d be her.
Tyler sat on his chair behind the desk, focused on the iPad he was holding. Paolo stood behind me, and even if my back was turned, I could feel that he was tensed. Why wouldn’t he be? We’re standing in front of the devil.
“Brother,” I called. My voice sounded meek, and I hated it. I’m sure Tyler does too.
He didn’t answer. It took him a minute or two to finally lift his gaze off the iPad. His eyes reflected mine. It pierced through me and I cowered under his glare. “What time is it, Liam?” he asked.
I gulped. “Nine thirty, sir.”
Tyler’s gaze went past me, falling on my friend. He didn’t even need to say anything for Paolo to start explaining why we were late. “Something happened, boss.” He hesitated at first before continuing, “the boys wanted to drink some milk tea.”
“And that took you, what? Two hours to drink some damn tea?” Tyler asked. Even if his voice sounded calm, I knew better. He was enraged. Damn it, Paolo. Just tell him the truth. That it’s my fault that we came back late.
“Yes,” Paolo said without batting an eye.
Tyler stared at him for the longest time before shaking his head in disappointment. “Lay off for a few days, Paolo. I’ll ask someone else to watch after Liam.”
And that made the two of us gasp in horror. “Wait, it’s my fault!” I said, quickly protecting Paolo for whatever punishment Tyler was planning for him. “I-I…it’s I—” I couldn’t speak well. Goddamn it! Why do I always find myself terrified of the guy who’s supposed to be my brother?
Ever since we were kids, Tyler loved tormenting me. It’s as if I was born just to be his punching bag. Back when we still lived together with our family, he’d always make me do things that would end up hurting me. And if I refused, he’d beat me up, over and over again. And no one would come and help me, not even our father.
It hurt to know that these people who should love me unconditionally treated me like this.
No, control yourself, Liam.
“Stop stuttering, Liam,” Tyler said, annoyed at how I was talking. “You’re not a kid anymore. Don’t tell me you still wet yourself at this age?” He scoffed before eyeing Paolo. “How pathetic can you be to ask someone to cover for your incompetence?”
His words hurt but I stood in front of him, taking it all. I lowered my head and bit my lip.
“Leave, Paolo,” he ordered. I didn’t dare to look back at him as he left the room. The door closed, the loud slam made me jolt.
I held in my breath. Before speaking, I gathered every strength I had. “I’m sorry,” I said.
Tyler stood up from his chair. He walked around the desk to stand in front of me, leaning his back against the wooden table. His arms crossed in front of me, his glare cutting through me. “Apologizing won’t help you straighten your mistakes, Liam.”
Slowly, I dropped to my knees, prostrating myself at Tyler like he’s some sort of god. I swallowed my pride and humbled myself, just to stop him from punishing Paolo, or the rest of the people who came with me outside.
“Please forgive me,” I murmured, pushing back the tears.
Tyler was scary. I wanted to run, far away from this monster, but no matter how hard I try to resist him, he’d always find a way to make me come back. He wouldn’t even need to lift a finger to make me beg for mercy. Just looking at me as if I’m the most miserable person on Earth, and nothing I do would save me from my family’s cruelty.
“You can do better than that, Liam,” Tyler teased. “I taught you how, didn’t I?”
I resisted the urge to cry from frustration as I crawled towards him. Leaning close to the tip of his shoes, I stuck my tongue out and began licking it. I cleaned off the dirt, tasting the earth on my tongue. It’s degrading. I wished the ground would open and swallow me as this was just…in my brother’s eyes, I’m not even worth to be treated like a human. I’m just a pet he needed to train.
Tyler scoffed. He tipped my chin with his foot, forcing me to look him in the eye. “What will you say next, Liam?” he pressed. That little smile appearing on his face proved that he was enjoying this.
“Please forgive me, brother. I won’t ever do it again,” I said loud and clear, fearing that he’d beat me up if I don’t speak properly.
“Good.” Pulling me up by my shirt collar, I stood up and faced him. “You just saved yourself a whole night of whipping, kid.” I tried hard to not show my relief after hearing what he said. I just had to swallow my pride as a person and do whatever it takes to please my brother. Tyler let go of me, motioning me to sit on the chair in front of his desk. “Tell me what happened,” he demanded. “And don’t bother lying. I will know.”
I gulped. I couldn’t tell him I met someone and that someone was the person I fell in love with. And to top it all, that someone was a man. I might not know what Tyler’s view of gay people, but I’m pretty sure someone as strict as him wouldn’t be so forgiving if he finds out the heir of a syndicate was attracted to a guy.
That’d be the end of me and Isaiah.
“I…just wanted to explore a bit,” I said, my lips quivering as I struggled to look straight into Tyler’s eyes. “And I enjoyed visiting the mall and eating lots of food.”
I cowered under my brother’s scrutinizing gaze. In the end, he turned his back on me and said, “you can go. I’ll call you tomorrow. Don’t be late, Liam. Or I’ll make you lick your own shit.”
“Y-yes, brother. I won’t. I promise.”
I ignored the gleam in his eyes as I exited his office.
Paolo met me outside Tyler’s office. “How is it?” he asked.
I hid the fact that I licked my brother’s shoes to protect him. “It’s fine. He’s in a good mood. He didn’t beat me up.”
Wayne was still standing next to the door, eyes looking straight forward. I bid him goodbye before Paolo and I walked back to the dorm. “He didn’t do anything to you?”
“No,” I lied. “Maybe tomorrow, he’ll do something. But I hope he lets it go.” Because to be honest, I didn’t want to be whipped to death.
Paolo scowled. “Sorry, I couldn’t—”
“It’s fine,” I said, stopping him from apologizing. It wasn’t his fault that we were late. “Let’s just go to sleep. I’m tired.”
As we walked back, we met Miki and Evan on their way to the school building. I raised a brow, surprised to see them outside at this time of night. “Oh, Liam!” Evan excitedly called my name, opening his arms wide as he jogged towards me. “You were gone for so long. What happened?”
“Just attending some family business,” I said, smiling at the smaller guy.
Evan Aquino was an enigmatic kid who looked too innocent to be in a place like this. But too many people had fallen on their knees for judging Evan’s appearance. He might look like a dainty guy—so innocent and kind but behind those fake attributes lies the real Evan—a man that could destroy someone’s life in an instant. He liked to play with his victims, manipulating them into doing whatever he wanted in exchange for his body. Out of all the gang leaders in the senior high department, I’m wary of Evan the most. People whose looks could be deceiving were the most dangerous of them all.
“I see,” he said, smiling brightly at me. His pale skin almost looked like it’s glowing, compared to Miki’s tanned features. “What about you? Are you going somewhere?”
Evan grinned. “Just taking my favorite dog for a walk,” he said.
Miki didn’t say anything. He was bigger and older than Evan but ever since they met each other, they’d been inseparable. There had been a lot of dogs Evan had over the years he’s been studying and living here in North Vale, but Miki was the longest one who stayed and survived his cruel antics.
“Right, of course,” I murmured, finding their relationship disturbing. Miki and I were close friends as we had been classmates for years, but he never told me what Evan was to him. It’s as if he’s just following him blindly, with no purpose at all.
But one thing I knew for sure, these two had been f*cking each other for the longest time.
Paolo and I were about to leave them to whatever business they’re doing before we saw each other, but Evan stopped me. “By the way, there’s a new student about to arrive.”
I stopped in my tracks. “What?”
“Yeah, the third batch this semester, I heard there’s ten of them,” he informed me. “Look after Keanne and the others. I’m sure they’d pick new victims to f*ck.”
They walked past us. I looked back at Paolo and said, “did you know about that?”
“I think Steven mentioned it before we left,” he mumbled.
I sighed. “I guess I’ll have to look after Keanne tonight,” I said.
“I expect Vincent will be there too. He loves terrorizing new kids,” Paolo added.
Keanne and Vincent were two of the most violent and insane gang leaders in our department. It’s hard to take care of them as they always caused trouble just to amuse themselves. I couldn’t blame them though, the two grew up in wealthy families that tolerated almost everything they did. They were spoiled and it turned them to be despicable human beings, hence why they ended here in North Vale. Their families couldn’t bear to let their kids taint their reputation and sending them to a correctional facility was the only way to save their faces.
I checked my smartwatch. It’s already eleven-thirty, huh? I’m sure whatever plans Keanne and Vincent had could wait until morning. They’re not that desperate to sacrifice sleep, right?
“I’ll take care of them tomorrow,” I said as Paolo and I walked through the door. I looked at the receptionist’s table and saw Julie was nowhere to be found. She’d always do anything except her job. Did she find another student to seduce and f*ck?
Paolo pushed the elevator button and waited for the door to open. “Aren’t you curious who they are?” he asked.
“I’m sure I’ll meet them tomorrow,” I said. Everyone would always be hungry for new faces, especially if it’s a girl. This school was filled with students who did the vilest things in the world. And new students were always the perfect targets for the worst kids, bullying them until they commit suicide, raping them in the corridors, forcing them to make those disgusting videos that showed how deprived a person could—it’s unbelievable what this school had allowed as long as they’d hide what’s happening behind these walls.
“Do you remember Lala?” Paolo asked.
I searched my brain to remember who she was. Jet black hair and somber eyes appeared in my head as I recalled who Paolo was talking about. “Isn’t she the freshman who transferred last semester?” I asked.
“Yeah, Keanne did it.”
“Of course. He’s been eyeing the girl for quite some time.”
He laughed. “But your brother already resolved the problem and sent her family money to hash it out.”
“Let me guess, he made Keanne’s family pay him for what he did,” I said, smirking at Paolo.
“Yeah, it was five hundred.”
Five hundred thousand, huh? Not bad. I guess my brother’s about to leave for another luxurious vacation with the headmistress.
We got inside the elevator and Paolo pressed for the VIP floors where students whose parents were sponsors of North Vale lived.
“I’m tired,” I mumbled, closing my eyes for a second. I just got back, and I’m already drained. Tomorrow’s a new day and classes were about to start. Not only do I need to top my class, but I also had to do whatever my brother wanted me to do.
I’m living for someone else and it’s…just tiring.
The only freedom I had was when I’m sleeping. And…when I’m with Isaiah.
The elevator stopped on the sixth floor and we saw Stephen about to get in. When he saw it’s going up, he clicked his tongue. “Ugh, I didn’t know the little prince had arrived,” he said, snickering at me.
“It’s nice to see you too, Davis,” Paolo said, glaring at him.
“Nice to see you too, bodyguard,” Stephen teased.
“Where are you going?” I asked. “Julie’s not at her desk.”
Stephen loved f*cking older women, especially teachers and staff. “I’m about to pick up the new student,” he said.
“Haven’t they arrived earlier this afternoon?” Paolo asked.
“No, there’s one who was late.” Stephen scoffed. “I’m sure your friends will have a feast with that one. To welcome him,” he added.
The door closed and I pondered quietly. Should I go down and check? If only I wasn’t this tired, I would have.
We arrived at the top floor and Polo escorted me back to my room. He opened the door for me and made sure I changed my clothes, washed my face, and brushed my teeth before going to bed.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said, bidding me goodbye. I was left alone in this huge penthouse that was too big for one person. My brother could have lived with me, but thank God he chose to be with Maria.
I looked out the huge windows as I lay on the bed. I wondered what Isaiah was doing. Thinking of him had become a routine—it’s almost therapeutic. Just imagining him smiling at me, his voice soothing my anxiety—it lulled me to sleep.
My eyes went wide open when my phone blared. I groaned, searching for it under the pillow. When I found the damn thing, I answered the call without even looking at who it was calling me.
“Hello?” I asked, annoyed that I was woken up. It felt like I only slept for minutes.
“Guess what, Liam.” I quickly recognized that soft voice. It was Evan. “My hunch was right. Keanne and Vince are about to the new guy.”
I raised a brow. “What?” I checked my time. It was two in the morning.
“What’s his name again?” Evan asked.
It was Miki who answered. “It’s Isaiah.”
I felt my heart skip a beat.
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