I’m aware of how strong Isaiah was. I’d seen what he’s capable of doing. His confidence was overwhelming and the sight of his broad back ready to protect whoever needed protection was such a turn on. He didn’t care if he’s going against the big boys. Isaiah knew that he could defeat them.
I would have admired him for the whole day if it wasn’t for the fact that the person he was hellbent on killing was my brother. Ah, no. Not just my brother. My psychopathic brother. The same guy who had killed people in the past just because they get on his nerves. The very same guy who tortured others just to teach them a lesson. That very same guy.
I never would have expected Isaiah to be stubborn. He was understanding in all ways. But he failed to understand why I was terrified for him to meet Tyler. He’s not just any ordinary guy he could pick fights with. Although my brother was trained extensively in combat, he wouldn’t think twice about choosing a gun and putting a bullet in between someone’s eyes. Why would he even tire himself out when he could do something as easy as that. Besides Tyler had multiple people working for him that would do his bidding. They’d do anything he’d order them, even going as far as killing themselves if that’s what Tyler wanted.
I could only shudder in fear.
My brother holds power that no ordinary people would understand. Clearly, Isaiah had proven that point. He failed to recognize the danger of going to Tyler and declaring war on a monster. It’s not that simple.
I would have done something if I could, but sadly, I’m too weak to fight Tyler or my father. I’d probably die taking orders from them.
“…for the rest of your life.”
I gripped my hands on the steering wheel, my heartbeat rising as dad’s words resonated in my ears.
I snapped out of my thoughts when Isaiah suddenly spoke. I looked at him, blinking. “What?”
He said beside me, his gaze focused on his hands that were clasped together. “For making such a big deal out of this.”
I was taken aback. I didn’t expect he’d apologize. I viewed Isaiah as this guy brimming in confidence. And from what I know, people like him would always find it difficult to lower their ego. Apologizing would only mean that he knew he messed up. He’s acknowledging his mistake.
Shit, and I thought it’s impossible to fall for him anymore.
“It’s okay,” I said. I was thankful that the drive to Maria’s place was taking longer than usual. I was deliberately slowing down as I was still enjoying Isaiah’s presence. His voice could cure whatever psychological torment my brother had been giving me the past few days. Everything about him healed my body and soul and as cheesy as that sounded, it was the truth.
I’m so lucky I met Isaiah.
Smiling, I said, “it’s nice to know that someone genuinely cares about me.” My smile turned into a pained one and he saw it. Since I was a kid, I learned that my only purpose was to serve my brother and father. It’s not like I had any goals of my own. I didn’t dream of anything at all. I was a blank slate. The only thing that kept me going was my drive to make my father proud. The so-called friends that I have only stick to me because of who I am. Paolo might be the only one who earnestly cares about me, but even then, there were times that I’d think he’s only treating me like his brother because he was asked to. Paolo’s working for my family after all. His loyalty had always been to my brother. If he tells him to hurt me, he’d do it without second thoughts.
Everyone that surrounded me worked for the Torres-Shao. And the rest of them feared me because of what I am.
No one dared to come close. Only Isaiah did.
“I’m sure a lot more people will care about you,” he said, beaming at me. “We’re only so young. We have a lifetime to know more people.”
My heart skipped a beat. Damn. He’s right about that. I was so engrossed with my responsibilities as the next leader of the Torres-Shao group that I forget that I’m still a kid. A senior high student should only be concerned about school, family, and love life. And yet here I am, stressing myself because of family matters.
It’s not fair.
“You’re right,” I said, smiling back at Isaiah.
“So,” he began, shifting his body towards me to face properly face me, “how much slower can you drive on an empty road, Liam?”
My cheeks flushed. He noticed, huh? “I’m just being careful,” I said.
Isaiah snickered. “Careful? Really? Are we suddenly going to hit a pedestrian in the forest?” he asked sarcastically.
I could see his mischievous smile through my peripheral vision. It felt like it’s been ages since I last exchanged a carefree conversation such as this with someone else. I’m always attending meetings with old men, dealing drugs and other illegal merchandise that my family offers—it’s a breath of fresh air.
“You never know,” I retorted, my lips curling into a smile. “North Vale is known for housing erratic students. Someone might suddenly jump in front.”
“I highly doubt that, Liam,” he said.
We arrived at Maria’s office. The faculty building was placed far away from where the students were and only a few were allowed to visit this place. The teachers that worked for North Vale had to sign non-disclosure agreements to ensure that no one would be able to know what the true agenda of the institution was. A lot of them had been past students, trapped in a contract they had no choice but to accept. The reputation that people outside knew about North Vale were all fake. It’s not the program that would solve the country’s problem about the growing crimes that juveniles commit. It never was.
“Oh shit, this is the faculty building?” Isaiah asked in wonder.
“Why is it so far away?”
“To give the teachers privacy and protection from the students,” I answered. I turned the engine off and got out of the car. “People here are…demons after all,” I murmured to myself.
Isaiah slammed the door close. I walked around the car and stood beside him, marveling at the sight of a six-story building that was exclusively used by the staff. The tall glass windows reflected the light of the sun, reminding me of how humid the afternoons could get. Fortunately, we’re in a rural area where the air was cleaner than in the cities. At least there’s one good thing about North Vale. Of course, except for Isaiah.
“This is really extravagant,” he commented as he looked around the place. The modern building that didn’t belong in the middle of the forest was surely breathtaking. Dad spared no expense to construct this place—his legacy as he calls it. I’m sure he loved North Vale more than his own sons. “How many staff does this school have?”
“A lot,” I replied.
Students with parents who had power and money get a lavish lifestyle even if they’re attending a supposed to be reformation school. The only reason they were here was to hide away from the public’s eyes. They belonged to the most prominent and influential families that they always get away with their crimes no matter how serious it could be. And to support the luxurious lives that they were born into, North Vale made sure they’d feel like they’re at home. They were given staff they could order around and amenities that would make their stay here comfortable.
This wasn’t a reformation institution, this was simply summer camp for these f*cked up kids.
I guided Isaiah inside the building. The guars that stood by the entrance immediately recognized me. Confused, the one on the right said, “what are you doing here, sir?”
“We’re here to see Maria,” I said.
They both shared a befuddled gaze. “The madam is currently in a meeting. I don’t think you can see her today.”
Typical. It’s always hard to get ahold of Maria. She was the headmistress after all. “I’ll wait for her. This is urgent.”
I narrowed my eyes at them. “Please.” One word and they understood why I needed to see Maria. Shrugging their shoulders, they allowed Isaiah and me to get through the glass doors. It’s not easy to enter this place. Not only did it have multiple men guarding the vicinity, but people needed keycard to access the doors.
One of the guards accompanied us inside. The hallway was spacious, the lights shining bright. The heels of our shoes tapped on the tiled floor. I could feel Isaiah’s gaze all over the place, looking around as much as he could. His fascination was kind of funny, like a kid in a museum. a
“I’ll contact Mr. Feo to tell the madam that you’re here to see her. It’ll take some time, sir,” the guard said.
I hated hearing that overly polite tone of his. It’s not like I’m Tyler or my father for him to talk to me as if I’m some prince. And being called sir had always left a bitter taste in my tongue. It was annoying. “Thank you,” I said, forcing a smile at him.
Isaiah entered the waiting room and for the nth time, he gasped in shock. “Oh my god. This is like one of those fancy rooms in hotels I see on TV,” he exclaimed.
I smiled. There were couches and sofa seats meticulously placed inside the waiting room. Maria was the only person handling North Vale’s affairs—meeting with potential sponsors, ensuring that the school’s real agenda was kept a secret, dealing with other syndicate groups that were interested in joining the Torres-Shao group. If not for her, North Vale would have crumbled. There was a time that she quit being the headmistress and was gone for a long time. Kenneth had to take over for her while Tyler finds a way to bring her back.
Maria was a mysterious woman. There were only a few things I knew about the woman, but she was the one responsible for shielding me against Tyler’s fury. If not for her, I would have—
“North Vale really likes expensive stuff, huh?” Isaiah commented, waking me up from my thoughts.
I smiled. “Yeah. But only the rich can enjoy that luxury.”
He scoffed. “Why am I not surprised? It’s always like that. Even on the outside.”
Isaiah was right.
“How long are we going to wait for Maria?” he asked, turning to face me.
There was still tension on his face. For Isaiah, meeting her would reassure him about my safety. And to think that someone was willing to go this far just for my sake, it’s heart-warming.
“I don’t know. It’s hard to meet her when she’s busy,” I said. “But she’ll come.” She always does.
Isaiah stared at me as if he’s trying to read my emotions. I stared back at him. It’s mindboggling how strong the spark was between the two of us. Whenever Isaiah looks at me, it’s like my whole world just lights up.
I could feel my cheeks getting hot and before I could make a fool out of myself, I tore my gaze off him.
He sat beside me, twiddling his thumbs. “Hey,” he called out.
“Just tell me if I’m overdoing it,” Isaiah mumbled. “I care about you, but I don’t want to do it…like I’m coming out like a stalker or a lunatic or something.”
I eyed him in disbelief. “N-no,” I snapped. “I really do appreciate it, I—” If only I could tell him that he was the only one who spent this much effort to ensure my safety against the person who’s supposed to protect me from others. “I’ll let you know if you’re stepping the line.”
“Good,” Isaiah said, grinning at me.
Only five minutes had passed, and Maria slammed the door open, panting. She wore her signature white dress shirt and black pencil skirt that accentuated her curved body, her blazer in her arms as she marched inside. “Liam!” she screamed my name, her voice etched in worry. “What happened? Are you alright?”
Seeing her rushing towards me like a mother, I felt my heart clenched in pain. “I-I’m fine, Maria. I…” She failed to notice Isaiah as her focus was on me. “It’s Tyler,” I said, my voice shaking in fear.
I always hated reporting things to Maria as if she was the warden, but she was the only person on Earth who could control my brother. Their relationship had been vague right from the very start but I’m aware of Tyler’s obsession with Maria. He’s always following her behind, like a puppy on a leash. It’s surreal.
“Of course,” Maria said, sighing. “That kid had been on the edge the past few weeks. And all because I’ve been busy with stuff. Why can’t he ever understand that I’m just doing my work, huh?”
I looked at her with wide eyes. I was right. His foul mood did have something to do with Maria.
She groaned. “And as always, it’s you who’s suffering, right?”
“Wait just a minute,” Isaiah interrupted. We both looked at her and for the first time, Maria realized I didn’t come here alone.
“Oh, aren’t you the new student?” It wasn’t a surprise that Maria knew about Isaiah. I don’t understand how she could recognize almost everybody attending in North Vale. But then again, she was Maria. She wouldn’t be the headmistress of this infamous school if she couldn’t do something as trivial as memorizing names. “Isaiah, right? Isaiah Montenegro?”
“Yes, I’m Isaiah,” he said slowly as he was awed that Maria knew him. “How did you—?”
“Darling. I know everyone who goes here,” she said, grinning at him. Isaiah glanced at me, confusion was evident on his face. Nevertheless, he didn’t ask how Maria could do that. He probably thinks she’s one of a kind. “I don’t want to assume anything, but I think I already know why you’re here.”
I was about to speak but Isaiah beat me to it. “Yeah! His brother’s abusing him!”
I wanted to slap my hand on his mouth to stop him from saying anything unnecessary but that wouldn’t be enough for Isaiah who had a fiery personality. Nothing would stop him from doing what he thinks was right.
“What?” Maria asked, surprised by Isaiah’s outburst.
“You heard me, headmistress,” he said, putting his hands on each side of his hips. His little stance showed his dominance, someone who wouldn’t take shit from anyone. “Tyler Torres-Shao, his own flesh and blood is abusing Liam.”
Maria’s rapid blinks showed her amusement as her lips curled upwards. “Oh, is he?”
Annoyed by her nonchalant reaction, Isaiah’s brows furrowed. “I beg you to do something about it. Liam’s not a toy he can play with. And if I’m being honest here, Tyler is a big piece of shit.”
She laughed out loud. Isaiah might have forgotten that these two had been seeing each other for a long time. “And how do you know Tyler’s the one doing it? For all we know, Liam might be lying.”
The corner of my eye twitched. I knew perfectly well what Maria’s intention was. She’s testing Isaiah. But the tortured kid inside me was hurt by those words. It wouldn’t be my first time hearing those words. I remembered telling everyone about what dad had been doing to me—the pain he’s intentionally causing while I suffer without anyone protecting me from him. And when I dared tell someone, they shrugged it off. As if my pain didn’t matter.
“Wha—?” Isaiah’s face turned red from anger. “I saw him faint in front of me! And the nurse said it’s because of severe stress…because of what his brother’s been doing to him. And I believe Liam! He’s not someone who will lie about this!”
Maria was stunned and so was I. I stared at Isaiah in utter shock. He glared at Maria, ready to defend me again if needed.
“Calm down, kid,” she finally said, regaining her composure after Isaiah’s little speech. “I believe you. I know what Tyler’s been doing to Liam.”
“So why in the world is he allowed to touch Liam?” Isaiah demanded. The rage in his eyes was clear as day, even the blind could see it.
Maria stood up and faced Isaiah. “Because he can,” she said, smirking at him. “And he should. Without Tyler, Liam will be dead.”
I lowered my gaze. I know that, no need to rub it on my face.
Isaiah’s mouth drop. “W-what?”
“Liam’s world is cruel, Isaiah. It’s not the same world that you know. He needs to be taught how to survive or else, he’d be eaten alive. He’s going to be the next leader of a syndicate group and the responsibilities he carries are immeasurable, something you won’t even understand. Tyler’s the only one who truly cares about Liam. And yes, his ways might be seen as extreme, but trust me when I tell you this,” Maria paused for a second before looking at me, “Tyler’s one of the few people who cares about Liam.”
The urge to stop her from explaining the littlest details to him overwhelmed me. I didn’t want Isaiah to know any more than what I told him.
Isaiah was silent. He realized that Maria had a point. Even if he couldn’t grasp how different our worlds were, he’s trying to understand it to some extent. Everything Maria said was true. At the back of my head, I knew that without Tyler’s help, I wouldn’t have lasted this long in the syndicate. He taught me everything I know. And the thought of disappointing him feared me even more than disappointing dad.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.
“It sucks, doesn’t it?”
I looked at Maria before looking back at Isaiah to see his reaction. “What?” he asked.
“To not know anything about the person you like.” We both gasped. Isaiah’s horrified expression after being confronted by Maria proved what was true. “Unless of course, you join him in the dark.”
I snapped my head at her, astounded that she’s putting ideas in Isaiah’s head. “That—!”
“But yes, I will listen to your request!” she piped, clapping her hands together. The simple gesture quickly lifted the grim mood in the room. “Tyler does need another vacation. And right now’s the perfect time for him to have one.”
“The kid has been stressed out and one of the few ways he could release it was by punishing Liam. Cruel but understandable, right?” she asked, smiling knowingly at me. “I’ll call Wayne and tell him to bring Tyler to me. A month will be enough for Liam to get some rest.”
“A month, wait—”
Before Isaiah could change Maria’s mind, I stood up and nodded at her. “Yes, that will be enough.”
She beamed at me. “Good. It’s been a while since I last bonded with Tyler. I’ll take him somewhere far away from where no one will be able to hear him…scream.”
I gulped. “Thank you,” I said.
“Now, off you go, kids. Miss any more class and you’ll be in detention. You don’t want that.”
We returned to the car with Isaiah following behind me. His loud stomps echoed on the ground he’s walking. “A month is not enough!”
He’s been complaining that to me ever since we left Maria. “But it’s more than enough for me, Isaiah.”
“Well, not for me. How can you just sit there and accept what she said?” he asked, irritated. I understood why he was angry, but could he blame me for that? Maria was right. She was just telling the truth about my relationship with Tyler. “Tyler’s hurting you and that’s not what brothers do.”
“It’s what we do,” I murmured to myself.
We got inside the car and he was still whining about how unfair Maria was to me. “I get that you’re different and all and whatever, but come on, you’re still human. Going through that abuse for a long time will f*ck you up. It will have effects, unreversible one!”
Oh, trust me, Isaiah. It’s too late to think about the consequences. “Please calm down, I—”
“How can I calm down when everyone’s treating you like you’re an object? Who cares about your responsibilities? You’re still a kid.” He slammed the door so hard, I thought it’d break. “F*ck, I’m so angry right now.”
I chuckled. “Thank you.”
“What are you thanking me for?” he snapped. He’s not even hiding the fact that he was irked by what happened during the meeting with Maria.
“For believing me,” I said. I eyed Isaiah, a grateful smile present on my face. “That’s the first time someone did that to me.”
“W-what?” he stammered. He’s suddenly embarrassed now, the color of his cheeks turning slightly red.
I didn’t know what came over me but found myself leaning towards Isaiah. Just now, he looked absolutely beautiful and I wanted to own him. To call him mine. A voice screamed in my head, telling me that I’m about to make a mistake that I’d regret in the future. But I didn’t give a damn.
I kissed him.
My body was warm as our lips touched for a brief second. It was nothing sexual, just a way for me to tell him how much I appreciate everything that he’s doing to me. But the second I felt his breath on my face, hearing that tiny gasp he made after realizing what I had done woke something in me.
I want him so bad.
I want Isaiah.
I never wanted anything so bad in my life.
My hands trembled. It took a sheer amount of strength to back away from him. I couldn’t look him in the eye as we sat in the car, quiet.
I’m so screwed.
“Liam, are you—”
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