I wanted to stay with Isaiah, I really do. But I knew better than dragging him into my business would only cause him unnecessary troubles. I had to talk to Paolo and explain things to him. I couldn’t let Tyler know about Isaiah’s existence and what he was to me. We’d only met a few times and haven’t even talked for hours and yet I’m already ready to throw my life for him. It sounded so ridiculous when I barely even know Isaiah, but the attraction I had for him was real. Never in my life did I become this interested in someone else, not until I met him. I lived my life knowing that I’d die being controlled by other people, and I was fine with that. Tyler could give me a woman he wanted me to marry and I’d do it in a heartbeat if he thinks she’d be useful to the Torres-Shao.
But now that I met Isaiah, I don’t think I could live if I were to be forced to date and marry someone else.
“You’re thinking of marrying him already?”
I ignored his sarcastic remark and made my way back to my room. I wasn’t thinking of marrying Isaiah. Not yet. I just couldn’t see how I’m going to force myself on some random woman Tyler would give me just because he wanted to see me act like a man.
Not only did it hurt my pride, but it’s also humiliating. It’s as if he’s saying no one would make an effort to come close to me because I’m not…just interesting. I had no redeeming personality—just a plain, old boring guy who belonged to a powerful and wealthy family. Strip that off me and I’d be nothing.
I kept thinking about these depressing thoughts when I should be focusing on Isaiah. He’s here in North Vale. I didn’t want to blame fate for that, but I couldn’t help but think that there’s a reason why we keep bumping into each other. For him to study here, it could only mean that I might see him from time to time. That idea alone makes me giddy. I certainly didn’t know what’s it like to fall in love as this was my first time, but damn, if this was what it felt like, then I’m missing a lot.
Isaiah’s presence made me feel things.
He made me feel that I’m important.
That I actually mattered.
That I’m not just a puppet for my family.
That I actually exist.
I clenched my fists, elated now that I’m being appreciated. I’m like a kid thirsting for someone’s attention.
I wanted Isaiah’s.
I opened the door to my room and was surprised to see Paolo inside. He sat on the couch, his phone in his hand. I gulped when I saw him but kept my cool as I walked towards Paolo.
“Good thing you decided to come back. I would have called your brother to deal with you and that guy,” he said, muttering the word that guy in disgust. It’s obvious that he didn’t like Isaiah and I couldn’t blame him. My new friend wasn’t exactly friendly with him.
“Thank you for not calling Tyler,” I said, smiling tiredly at him.
“Tell me that little shit won’t be causing trouble for you,” Paolo said through gritted teeth, his glare warning me. “I’m not going to hesitate to—”
“No,” I barked, shaking my head furiously. “Isaiah’s just a friend. I just…think he’ll be a great addition to the gang. He’s really strong, you know.”
Paolo narrowed his eyes. “And when did you care about recruiting people to your gang?” he asked. His voice dripped in distrust as he probably thinks I’m just making excuses for Isaiah. I had no intention of making him join the group, but I had to say something believable to convince Paolo that I’m not interested in Isaiah because I like him.
But saying that I wanted him to join the group when I rarely care about it sounded suspicious. And now that I said it, Paolo would even be more skeptical of me and Isaiah. I wanted to hide my feelings for his as much as possible and if I had to say stuff like the normal Liam wouldn’t, then so be it. I’m willing to change if it meant protecting Isaiah from my fucked-up family.
“Tyler did talk about it to me,” I said, quickly thinking of a reason to save myself from my lies. “He said I need to find more people to join my gang or else, he’ll punish me.”
Paolo looked at me and I could see the hesitation in his eyes. Tyler might have said a lot to me, things that definitely hurt my ego, but I don’t think he ever mentioned anything about increasing the people in my gang. It’s not like I’m competing for who had the most members since Keanne would win in that. And besides, like the gang that Hiro used to have here in North Vale, mine handles different kinds of jobs for the syndicate. Unlike the other gangs whose focus was on terrorizing North Vale and ensuring that they could continue whatever menace they’d been doing when they were still outside, my group had to deal with a business that would benefit the Torres-Shao. Tyler had been sending me to deal with other syndicate groups and either I sell illegal goods to them or coerce them into joining my family’s business.
It scared me to imagine what would Isaiah say when he finds out what kind of things I’m doing for my family.
“Whatever,” Paolo said, dismissing everything related to Isaiah. I resisted the urge to sigh in relief. I didn’t want Paolo to notice that I’m protecting Isaiah from my brother’s wrath. “Just go to sleep. You have an early meeting with your brother. At around seven.”
I grunted. Right, he did say he wanted to talk to me again. “Alright. Good night then. For real, this time,” I said, smiling sheepishly at him.
“Don’t dare to get up again until I wake you up, Liam,” Paolo threatened. He stood up from the couch and walked to me. “I will know.”
“No need to scare me, Paolo,” I said, smirking at him. “I’m too tired to even sneak out.”
True enough, the second I collapsed on the bed, I fell asleep. I was tired for everything that happened today that a night of good sleep, no matter how short it was, was what I deserved. It felt as if I only closed my eyes for a few minutes when I woke up after hearing Paolo’s voice, nagging me to wake up.
I grumbled as I struggled to get up, my eyes were swollen from exhaustion. “What time is it?” I asked, my sight blurry.
“Six-thirty. You still have time to get ready,” Paolo answered. He tossed me my uniform before going back to the bed to pull me up. “Come on, Liam. No time for dillydallying.”
“I know,” I retorted as I pushed him off me. I always hated taking a bath in the morning, but Paolo always insisted that it’d be good to start a day with a warm, nice bath. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the luxury to enjoy that as I was already running late.
I took a quick shower before getting out of the bathroom to get dressed. Paolo was waiting for me in the living room, browsing his phone. While fixing my hair, I checked my phone and saw that I had five messages, two from Martinez and three from Paolo who had been asking me to go back or he’d tell Tyler about me and Isaiah.
Isaiah, now that I’m thinking about him, I suddenly felt excited. He’s here in North Vale. The chances of seeing him increased. I imagined I’d run into him in the corridors and as always, he’d make my heart jump in happiness just from his presence.
I sounded like a lovesick teenager just now, it’s annoying.
“Are you done?” Paolo asked.
“Yes,” I replied, clumsily putting the blazer on before stepping out of my bedroom. “Let’s go. I can’t possibly make my brother wait, right?”
Paolo scoffed. “Obviously. Unless, of course, you want to be whipped for breakfast, then be my guest.”
I ignored his sarcastic remark. “Let’s just go.”
Leaving my dorm, Paolo and I walked to the elevator and waited for the door to open. I stood there in silence, dreading that I had to see my older brother this early in the morning. And I haven’t eaten anything yet, where would I even get the strength to deal with him?
“Liam,” Paolo called, waking me up from my thoughts.
He was looking straight ahead. “Don’t forget what I said. Don’t involve some civilian in our business.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “Is it so bad to have a new friend, Paolo?” I asked.
“In Tyler’s eyes, yes,” he said.
That hit a nerve. If my psychotic brother finds out that I’m losing my rationality over some delinquent that got admitted here in North Vale, he’d definitely do something about it.
No, I had to keep my relationship with Isaiah a secret.
I needed to keep him safe.
The elevator door parted and before stepping in, I smiled at Paolo. “Don’t worry about me,” I said.
Paolo shook his head, smiling back in defeat. “It’s my job to worry about you, boss.”
Arriving at Tyler’s office, I was surprised he let Paolo come in. Did he also have business with him? There’s no way Paolo could have told him about Isaiah and what happened last night, right? Paolo wouldn’t betray me like that, I knew he wouldn’t.
Tyler put his iPad down and looked at the two of us. We stood in front of him, our backs straight, and gaze down on the floor. In my opinion, Tyler should be the next in line for taking over the Torres-Shao group. Just a glare from him could make men piss their pants in fear. He certainly had the same aura as dad had—an aura that fitted a mob leader.
The only reason why dad chose me was because of him.
Because apparently, for dad, he was the evilest thing he had seen, and it’s perfect for the Torres-Shao.
“Paolo,” Tyler called. I could sense Paolo getting tensed beside me.
“Tell me the real reason why Liam came home late last night.”
My jaw dropped open, my heart suddenly skipping a beat. “Wait, Tyler, I already told yo—”
Tyler glared at me. “Shut up, Liam. I’m not talking to you so shut the fuck up.”
My body grew cold as the possibility of Tyler knowing about Isaiah’s existence scared the shit out of me. If Paolo says the real reason why we were late, I’m so fucked. So fucked.
“Didn’t Liam tell you?” Paolo asked, his voice strained. Not a lot of people could talk back to Tyler and yet he did. It wouldn’t be the first time for Paolo to lie to my brother just to protect me from his brutal punishments. He had seen how far Tyler could go just to teach me a lesson and to remind me who and what I am.
I didn’t have the right to enjoy my life and that’s what I’m doing whenever I’m with Isaiah. Never did I feel this exhilarated and he was the only one who made me feel like that—and if he were to disappear, I don’t think I—
“I wouldn’t be asking you if I believe the little shit,” Tyler said, his grey eyes mirroring mine looked at Paolo, daring him to lie for me again.
I had to do something. I couldn’t let Paolo take the blame for what I did. I knew what the consequences were when I decided to break Tyler’s rules. It’s simple. He wanted me to come home at that exact time, and I didn’t.
I earned punishment.
I wanted to speak, to open my mouth and tell Tyler the truth—that I met someone I was attracted to.
I had to tell him.
I had to!
With trembling lips, I was about to confess but Paolo beat me to it. “Liam wanted to look around some more and I allowed him,” he said, blatantly fabricating a scenario that didn’t happen. He looked Tyler in the eye to show that he was telling the truth, but the three of us knew he wasn’t.
Tyler stared at him for the longest time and it was as if time stopped. I couldn’t breathe nor could I blink. I was watching Tyler and what his reaction would be once he realized Paolo was also lying to him. He didn’t need to ask the two of us to know what really happened while we were outside North Vale. I’m sure he had tons of men who were following us, hiding in the shadows to report everything to Tyler.
He’s only asking to fuck us up—to test if Paolo would stay loyal to me even if his life was in danger.
Because quite frankly, if we piss Tyler off, he wouldn’t hesitate to blow our brains out.
He stood up and walked around the desk, his gaze focused on mine as his smile turned into that familiar sinister smirk that could make my skin crawl in fear. I stood frozen, waiting for the devil to come close to me.
“Oh, baby brother, you should be thankful you have such loyal people working for you,” Tyler cooed, his arms wrapping around mine to hug me. My body was as stiff as a pole, my breath stopping momentarily as the same devil embraced me like it’d be the last moment in my life. “But you see, Liam, you still need to be punished.”
A small whimper escaped my mouth. Pulling back, Tyler cupped my cheeks and forced me to look at those blackhole orbs of his that could suck out my soul. “You understand, right?”
I swallowed the thick lump in my stomach, my eyes wavering in utter fear. “…I—I do…”
“Then, as punishment,” Tyler paused as if pretending to think, “I want you to punish Paolo.”
“What?” I gasped, my eyes going wide in disbelief.
“It’s hitting two birds with one stone, I get to punish you two,” my brother sneered, his monotonous voice getting excited from seeing me doing something I didn’t want to do. “Besides, little brother, hurting people should be the one thing you’re good at. You mostly fucked up everything you do, but you must have some redeeming values, don’t you?”
That hurt. “I—”
“Do it, Liam,” Paolo said, looking at me while nodding. “It’ll be alright.”
“See? Even your victim is taking pity on you,” Tyler mocked. He crossed his arms and leaned against the edge of the desk, urging me to go on.
I clenched my fists, eyeing Paolo in worry. My brows furrowed hard, my heart still beating loudly. I hated hurting anybody, especially if it’s someone like Paolo. And my brother knew that. He could read me like the back of his hand. He knew what would fuck me up—not only physically but mentally too.
Tyler’s playing me like a fiddle, and I couldn’t do anything but let him.
“Go on then, beat him up,” Tyler urged. “I don’t need to teach you how to do that too, right?”
He’s always mocking me.
Paolo nodded at me. “I can take it, boss,” he whispered.
Taking a deep breath, I clenched my fist and gave Paolo a hard punch on the face. Tyler whistled when he saw my childhood friend losing his balance, blood spurting out of his nose. His groan echoed in the room, and I swore my heart dropped when I saw him in pain. I could have controlled my strength, but Tyler would know that I’m holding back. And it’d only make this whole ordeal even much worse than it already was.
“Nice punch, kid. Do it again.”
“No, that’s enough,” I said as the tingling in my knuckles sent shivers down my spine.
Tyler didn’t need to repeat his words when he narrowed his eyes at me, his gaze piercing cold. Paolo managed to stand, wiping the blood away before looking back at me through hazed eyes. “Do it, Liam,” he begged.
I shut my eyes, evening my breathing as I walked towards Paolo. Again, I hit him, over and over until Tyler was satisfied. Every punch I land on his face broke my heart, and to see him bleeding and hear him cry out from the pain hurt me even more—and Tyler was enjoying it. By the time I was done, Paolo collapsed on the floor, his face mutilated. Blood dripped from every hole as he panted, his body shaking.
I was about to go and help him, but Tyler stopped me. “I’ll send someone to fix him up.” He grabbed my shoulders and forced me to look at him. Taking my hands covered in Paolo’s blood, his smirk hit me differently. This was the man who wanted me to become like him, a person who’s willing to hurt others just because it’s entertaining.
I bit back the tears. I hurt Paolo. He did his best to protect me and Isaiah and this was what he got. I could never see myself beating him up again, even if he tries to betray me. We’d been together for so long that I consider him as a family—even more than Tyler and my father.
I bit my lip that was about to tremble when I looked my brother in the eye. Right in front of me was the devil himself. It appalled me that we shared the same blood.
I didn’t want to be like Tyler.
Or my father.
Or anyone in the syndicate.
But if I wanted to continue living, I had no choice but to become like them.
And it frightened me that one day, I’d be standing where Tyler and my father was.
“You did good, Liam,” Tyler said, squeezing my hands tight. He wasn’t bothered that it was soiled with blood. “Not great but good. It’ll have to do.”
My shoulders dropped. What am I expecting from Tyler? A pat on the head? He’d never be impressed nor appreciate me.
I’m just a tool.
“Now, go to your class.” He fixed my crooked collar for me, deliberately staining my uniform with Paolo’s blood. My blood grew cold when he smiled at me. It’s as if condemning me of a crime I didn’t do. “Don’t be late.”
He gave me a gentle push. I didn’t dare look back at Paolo as he lay on the floor bathing in his own blood. I hurried out of Tyler’s office and slammed the door close, heaving. My hands were trembling as I stared at the crimson blood etched on my hand, and it sickened me.
I ran to the nearest bathroom and threw up in the toilet bowl. Fortunately, this was the student council building. No one would even dare go here if they weren’t a part of the council. I dropped on the floor, throwing up nothing but the acid from my empty stomach. I broke into cold sweats, nauseous from the smell of blood.
It took me a long time to calm myself. I washed my hands as well as the stain of blood from my uniform, but it was no use. No matter how much I scrub it, it wouldn’t disappear. I could go back to my dorm, but I was already late for my second class.
I grabbed my bag and rushed to my classroom. I ignored the confused gazes thrown at me as I walked through the corridor, my dress shirt wet and my hair damp. I could hear their whispers, buzzing like flies in my ears.
“Did his brother do that?”
“Man, he looked horrible.”
“Is that blood?”
“Liam fucked someone again, huh?”
“He’s a monster.”
I held my head as it began to throb. My stomach churn and I was dizzy, but I needed to go to class.
Before Tyler finds out and forces me to beat up someone again.
“What if it’s Isaiah next time?”
I turned the corner only to bump into someone. I almost fell but a hand caught my arm before I could even touch the ground. “Woah, Liam? What the hell happened to you?” I gasped, recognizing that deep yet gentle voice that he had. I looked up and saw Isaiah, his hazel-brown eyes looking at me in surprise. “Wait, is that blood? Wha—?”
I flinched, my jaw dropping in fear. “N-no…don’t let them see…!”
I struggled to get out of his grasp, but I couldn’t. He was far stronger than I am. His grip tightened against mine as he pulled me close to him. “Hey, calm down. What’s wrong? Are you alright?”
His hand was so warm it contrasted with how cold I was. I wanted to run away from him as it was the only way to protect him from my brother, but he wouldn’t let me.
Isaiah’s eyes turned dark and he looked around as if finding the person responsible for making me act like this. Without saying anything, he dragged me somewhere and as much as I struggled against his hold, he just wouldn’t let go.
Damn it, Isaiah!
If Tyler finds out, he’ll—!
I couldn’t breathe, again, but this time, my chest hurt, and my ears began to ring. With every step, I felt like my body was turning into lead. My knees were weak; my whole body was giving up on me.
I couldn’t let them see Isaiah with me.
I looked at Isaiah’s back and adored how strong and broad his shoulders were. But before I could tell him that, my sight turned blurry, and soon, I lost consciousness.
I have to protect him.
I have to.